How To Fire An Employee And Avoid Getting Sued

At some point in your career you are probably going to have to fire someone. It’s never going to be easy to let someone go from your company, but it’s often a necessary part of the job. Firing someone can be a soul crushing experience that needs to be handled delicately – especially if you want to avoid getting sued.

Man with sign saying you're fired picture

No person or business wants to be involved in a lawsuit. It’s a time consuming, expensive drain on all of your resources. Unfortunately, a disgruntled employee who was fired may try to sue for wrongful termination. It’s scary, but it happens more than anyone likes to admit.

Successfully firing someone is all about preparation. If you follow the correct steps and procedures, you can fire an employee and avoid getting sued. It’s your responsibility to consult with your company’s legal team to make sure you do everything properly, but hopefully this list will give you a good starting point to plan out how to fire someone:

  • Give Adequate Warnings – Unless an employee commits an offense that results in immediate termination, they deserve a chance to change. Give an employee plenty of warnings and help coach them to success. When you have to give multiple warnings to an employee, be consistent in your message. Ideally they can change and you can avoid having to fire them.
  • Document Everything – Documentation is super important. It is your main form of legal protection. Always write everything down – warnings, write-ups, emails. etc. Keep digital and paper copies. Signed copies are even better. If you have a face-to-face conversation, summarize it in an email. It can take months or even years of documentation to create a case to fire someone.
  • Consult Your Legal Team – Double check with your legal team to ensure that you are following all local, state, and federal laws. Consult your company’s policies and procedures. Check that this potential fire is consistent with past situations. It’s your responsibility to follow your company’s procedures.
  • Make A Plan – Before you fire someone you need to get their affairs in order. You need to have a plan to deal with security issues, benefit plans, passwords, company property, severance pay, contract agreements, etc. All of these things need to be in place before you call a meeting.
  • Be Prompt And Efficient – Once you decide to fire someone, don’t dilly dally. You don’t want to delay the inevitable.
  • Schedule A Meeting – Organize a termination meeting with the employee. Bring a witness or two along. A reliable witness can back up everything that happens during the meeting in case of a future legal discussion.
  • Say The Right Things – It’s your job to stick to the facts and be honest. Use a script if necessary. Don’t apologize or get emotional. Don’t drag it out. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. Be ready for the employee to feel a mix of emotions – anger, sadness, confusion, betrayal. Regardless of the employee’s reaction, stay professional.
  • Escort Them Out – It’s best to accompany an employee to clean out their belongings and escort them off of company property.
  • Avoid Divulging Details Unnecessarily – After the employee has been terminated, there is no need to talk about any of the details of the incident.
  • Get Back To Work – Divide up the employee’s tasks and help your team get back on track. It’s time to get back to business.

The other thing to consider when you are firing someone is timing. There are many theories about the best day of the week to fire someone. Typically earlier in the week near the end of the work day is ideal. This allows the employee to immediately start looking for work the next day and doesn’t give them the weekend to get angry about the situation. The end of the day is best because they can pack their things after their co-workers have left the office. Use your judgement on choosing the best time to fire someone though.

Firing someone is not ever something to look forward to. It may even be the worst thing you will ever have to do, but once it is done, it will be a huge relief. Follow the above steps to make this stressful situation a little bit easier for everyone involved.

It’s important to note that the law is complex and this list is not an iron clad way to avoid litigation. Always consult with your company or your legal team to ensure you know how to fire an employee and avoid getting sued.

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