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How to fire people the right way

Meridith Levinson | Nov. 1, 2011
When Roy Bostock, the chairman of Yahoo's board of directors, fired Carol Bartz over the phone last month, the company's cold handling of the termination was widely regarded as an example of how not to fire an executive--or any employee for that matter.

If the employee asks why they're getting fired or laid off, managers have two options for answering this question, depending on the reason for the individual's termination. If the termination is due to the employee's poor performance, Heyman recommends managers "have a line and stick to it," such as, 'We've discussed your performance several times. This job is no longer a good fit.'

If the employee is part of a layoff motivated by economic or financial circumstances, it's best to say something simple such as, 'Your employment is being terminated due to a necessary reduction in force. The reason we have to do a reduction in force is because of the tough economic climate,' and leave it at that, says Moore.

4. The manager isn't truthful about the reason for the termination. Managers who feel badly about having to lay off staff will sometimes try to soften the blow to the employee during the termination meeting, says Moore. The manager might say, "We have to cut you, but it has nothing to do with your performance. You were a great employee, but I need to let you go, and it's completely and solely related to cost reasons," says Moore.

Such histrionics become problematic when the decision to lay off the employee was in fact performance related, adds Moore. If that individual decides to file a lawsuit alleging he was fired because of his age, the company will respond to the claim by saying, 'You weren't fired for your age. You were fired because your performance was the lowest among the people we chose,' says Moore. The plaintiff will in turn respond, 'During my termination meeting, you told me my performance was great and that it had nothing to do with the reason for my termination.' That discrepancy can get an employer in hot water.

5. The manager shares the bad news over social media. Gee says she's starting to see lawsuits and legal claims related to updates managers have posted to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, in which they disclose details of employee terminations. "Talk about disrespectful," she says.

Of course, one way employers can dramatically reduce their risk of wrongful termination suits, says Gee, is by offering employees a severance agreement in return for a release of all legal claims. "It helps the employee because it aids in their transition and doesn't preclude them from seeking unemployment insurance," she says. "From the employer's perspective, the severance agreements are important because the employee will release the employer of all claims related to or arising out of the employment [if they accept the severance package]. That will take care of tort claims, contract claims, discrimination claims and wrongful termination claims."


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