When You Have to Let Them Go, Here’s How

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Jun 24, 2019

Letting an employee go is never easy. The road to dismissal is fraught with potential mishaps, and should be trodden carefully.

A badly handled dismissal can be unpleasant for everyone involved – and sometimes risky for your company – so it’s crucial to make sure you follow a fair and consistent procedure.

Do you really need to let them go?

Dismissing someone should always be a last resort. If you have an issue with an employee, you should investigate the situation and explore other options before resorting to dismissal.

In most situations, it’s best to try to resolve things informally before launching a formal procedure. Sometimes – particularly in smaller firms – simply having a quiet word will be enough. In some cases, additional training or advice may be all that’s needed to get things back on track. In others, the employee may be facing personal issues for which they need extra support.

Taking disciplinary action

If this doesn’t work – or if the issue is more serious – there may be other routes to take before you decide to let the employee go. Your course of action will depend on what the issue is.

If it’s a case of poor performance, you should give the employee a chance to improve their work before dismissing them. A performance improvement plan may be appropriate: set goals for them over a specific timeline, and monitor their performance. If things don’t get better, call them in for a meeting. If there’s still no improvement, issue a warning. Repeat the process, and if they don’t up their game, issue a final warning. If the employee still doesn’t respond, you could then consider dismissal.

If it’s a case of misconduct, disciplinary action may resolve the issue without the need for dismissal. Again, you should follow the proper formal procedure in any disciplinary action you take. Establish the facts and notify the employee in writing before holding a meeting. Decide on an action, and if there’s no improvement, issue an initial warning and a final warning before considering dismissal.

How to dismiss an employee

If you’ve followed the correct disciplinary procedure and issued a final warning, and there’s still no improvement or the employee commits further misconduct, the final step should be dismissal. You should act fairly, reasonably and sensitively at every stage of the dismissal process.

Only the appropriate senior manager can decide to dismiss an employee. The employee must be informed in writing of the decision, including reasons for dismissal, the date on which their employment will end and advice on the right of appeal.

If an employee has committed an act of gross misconduct, the usual procedure would be to suspend them on full pay while the offence is investigated. Having concluded the investigation and the appropriate disciplinary procedure, if you’re satisfied that gross misconduct has indeed occurred, you may dismiss the employee without notice or payment in lieu of notice.

Making sure you’re covered

Improper handling of a dismissal could lead to legal action against your company, so it’s absolutely vital to follow the correct procedure at all times.

Employees who have been with you for two years or more can claim unfair dismissal. Whilst it’s easier to dismiss people before the two-year mark, some other claims – including discrimination – don’t have a minimum service requirement. So it’s best to always be on the safe side and do everything to can to ensure you’ve acted fairly and within the law, regardless of length of service.

When following any form disciplinary or dismissal procedure, always notify employees of your intentions in writing, and keep written records of your conversations. Inform them in writing of the reasons for any action you’ve decided to take. This will provide evidence you’ve followed a fair process, and will help guard against any discrimination claims.

If your company has any contractually binding performance management or disciplinary procedures, make sure you always follow these – otherwise you may face breach of contract claims.

What if they react badly?

Dismissal is often, understandably, an emotional process – for employers as well as employees. It’s difficult to predict how each individual employee will react, but you should be prepared for a range of responses.

In all your dealings with the employee, remain sensitive, patient and supportive. If they respond emotionally in a meeting, offer them time to be alone if needed. Empathise with them, and offer direction on what they need to do next.

If the employee becomes angry, respond to any verbal attacks patiently but firmly. Always remain calm, and don’t be tempted to argue. Refrain from discussing performance issues, and if necessary, stop the meeting and pick it up again later.

The best way to manage employee responses is to follow a clear procedure throughout, and inform them of any impending action or decision in advance. If you’ve followed the correct process, given them the opportunity to improve and kept them updated at every step, it should minimise the shock of any dismissal decision and mitigate a bad reaction.

Managing the fallout

Other members of staff may potentially be affected by a colleague’s dismissal, or there may be concerns that the same could happen to them.

After the dismissal, be clear with them about what’s happened. You don’t need to go into all the details of the procedure, but, to the extent you can, be honest about why the employee was dismissed. This will reassure them that it’s not a company issue, and they have no reason to fear that their jobs are on the line.

Being honest with them will also send the message that you respect them and want them to feel valued. However, it will also make it even more important that you’re consistent in your disciplinary procedures. If you dismiss one employee for poor performance but allow another to carry on unchecked, you will undermine yourself as an employer and open yourself up to possible discrimination claims.

Whilst letting employees go is always tough, if you investigate alternative options first, follow the correct procedure and be clear and fair with them throughout, you’ll mitigate any potential issues and ensure the process is as painless as it can be.