IBA: How To Fire An Employee

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By Mark R. Waterfill

Would you rather get your teeth drilled or fire that problem employee? It is easily the most painful part of the employment process. The case law of employment claims is ripe with horrible stories of terminations gone wrong. The purpose of this article is to set out guidelines which can help to make the tooth drilling process a little easier, both for you and the terminated individual.

Take as much time to fire as you did to hire. The employer who decides to fire someone at 3 pm on Friday is making a terrible mistake. Never fire in a hurry, especially when you are angry. Take your time and plan both the firing decision and the means to do it.

Document performance to support the decision. Hopefully you have good documentation procedures in place already and have given the employee evaluations and warnings that the performance is sub par or that there is some other business reason for the termination.

Always tell the truth. If the termination is not for cause but because of a downsizing, then do not make up other reasons, tell the employee you have to downsize. However, if the reason given is that there is a downsizing, make sure that you are not looking to fill the position in the near future.

Fire the employee for what they admit to have done, not what is speculated to have happened. In almost every for cause termination situation there are facts that the employee admits which are sufficient to justify the action. Use those as the reason for the termination, not what is suspected. For example, the bank teller who admits that she failed to count the money before placing it in the bag will be fired for that and not for theft of the money which she adamantly denies.

Use a team to deliver the news. The team should consist of a person with authority to make the decision and one who can handle the details of the exit. It is often advisable to have a male-female team to handle the matter.

Consider using a termination letter. Indiana law requires a written reason be given for any termination. Moreover, the exit interview can be eased substantially by the use of a termination letter. The letter can set out a general reason for the action, and handle the details of the termination with an increased degree of professionalism.

Handle the money well. Know how much the employee is owed for wages, vacation, commissions, etc. By handing the fired employee an envelope with a check in the appropriate amount at the termination, you will substantially reduce the chances for lawsuit by a disgruntled employee.

Terminate in a neutral site such as a board room or conference room. Besides being more fair to the discharged employ, the neutral site is more flexible than the president’s office. The terminated employee may want to go over every detail of removing each nick nack from the office or go over other details that the company president doesn’t need to remain to discuss. By using the neutral site, these situations can be avoided.

Shut up. Termination interviews can be ruined by poorly stated oral presentations. You have labored over this letter which the employee is trying to read, so let them do so. The best terminations are when the employee reads the letter, shakes your hand and walks out the door, nothing more to be said. Don’t ruin it by talking too much. Also, don’t engage in debate. The decision has been made and there is no reason to continue a discussion on the point.

Consider a severance package. Many employees are looking for a “package” consisting of severance and other benefits. If you are willing to pay more than two weeks’ severance, you should have an employment attorney draft a complete severance and release agreement which complies with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act. In the long run, you may save a lot of time and money by providing a severance package.

Remind the employee of any obligations to the company. In many states, including Indiana, covenants not to compete are enforceable even against employees who have been fired. Also, many employees know confidential trade secrets belonging to the company and they may not realize the liability they face for misappropriating those. It is good practice to remind employees of their obligations in the terminations letter.

Post-termination considerations. Do not follow all of these suggestions and then screw up the entire matter after the fact. Be aware that post-termination defamation and discrimination claims can be very expensive. Keep the circumstances of the termination confidential and instruct all others to do the same.

Firing an employee is, without question, the hardest part of management. However, by following these guidelines you might find what you thought would be a difficult termination turn-out to be as harmless as a visit to the dentist - with no cavities.•

Mark R. Waterfill is an attorney with the Indianapolis law firm of Benesch/Dann Pecar.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.