How to get through a hostile termination

Letting an employee go is a difficult situation most managers want to avoid. It can be especially tough if it’s a hostile termination, but with the right preparation and professionalism, you can get through this difficult conversation with your dignity — and your employee’s dignity — intact.

Hostile termination best practices

Any employee termination can be difficult, but a potentially hostile one can take some unexpected turns. That’s why we’ve prepared the following best practices to guide you through the process.

Bring a third party. Another manager or HR representative should always be present when you fire an employee, especially if terminating a potentially hostile employee or one who might twist your words or make false accusations. It is also best to include a balance of genders, says Lissa Weimelt, principal with The Hiring Experts, a retained executive search firm.

Find the right office. The best place to terminate is a private office or meeting room close to an exit — there’s nothing worse than an upset employee having to traipse through a workplace to find his way out.

Pick the right day. Out of respect for and fairness to the employee, terminate as early in the workweek and day as possible. “If you let someone work all day, then they are giving to the company, and other employees will see this as disrespectful that you let them give all day long, or all week long, then fired them at the last possible moment,” says Scott Cawood, PhD, author of Destination Profit: Creating People-Profit Opportunities in Your Organization. “Fire them early and pay them for the day, but let them leave right after the meeting.

Be prepared. Bring tissues and water as well as the phone number for an employee assistance program representative, if available, says Scott Cawood, PhD, president of ModernThink, an employee management consulting firm. There are logistical issues to work out, too. Cawood once had to terminate an employee who used a company car. How will that employee get home? Finally, have any necessary paperwork or documents ready to avoid scrambling for them as the employee tries to leave.

What to say and how to say it

When the time comes for a hostile termination, it’s best to just get down to business, says Pamela Holland, author of “Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move?” and chief operating officer of Brody Communications. “The termination discussion should be as brief as possible,” she says. “Your tone should be calm and assertive.”

According to Weimelt, ex-employees often criticize former employers for giving vague reasons for termination. “Being prepared, staying calm and speaking respectfully is critical to a termination procedure,” she says. “Many employees actually know when they are not doing a good job. If the termination itself is handled well, an ex-employee is less likely to blame the employer for being fired.”

Managers should know that saying too much can get them into legal hot water, says Weimelt. Therefore, it’s important to make a prepared, written statement that can be placed in the employee’s personnel file, such as:

“John, after reviewing your work performance for the last two months, we concluded that this job is not a good fit for your skills. Because of that, today is your last day. You will have time to gather your personal items before you leave. We thank you in advance for working with us on a smooth transition.”

Cawood says it’s important to get to the point quickly. “You should let someone know the real deal within three minutes of the start of the meeting,” he says. “Don’t worry about breaking the ice. There is nothing you can do that will make the message pleasurable.”

After you drop the bomb

According to Weimelt, employees may have a variety of questions, including:

  • Can you give me an example of what I did wrong?
  • Will I get a reference from you?
  • Can I file for unemployment?
  • Are you going to tell other employees I am fired?
  • Do I get any severance?

The best policy overall is to avoid being backed into the specifics trap and refer any questions regarding company policy to HR.

Managers need to keep sight of the bigger picture. “The important thing to remember is that your role as a manager is to ensure that certain deliverables are being met in keeping with the company’s strategic direction,” says Holland. “When someone fails to do that in his or her job, either because of lack of ability or bad judgment, you must draw strength in the fact that by terminating that person, you are fulfilling your obligations and doing the right thing.”

It’s also important to remember that your delivery can help soften the blow. “There is never an easy way to share hard information,” says Cawood. “You can, however, be sensitive to the employee’s need to process the data, be upset and avoid being embarrassed.”

A Solid Recruiting Strategy can Help Prevent Hostile Terminations

Nobody enjoys the termination process, regardless of which side of the desk you’re on. As the boss, you have to shoulder the burden of delivering the bad news while also maintaining office morale. Fortunately, a better recruitment process, which includes a well-crafted job posting, can help minimize the likelihood of a hostile termination. Reach a wide pool of qualified candidates today by posting your first job for free.

Legal Disclaimer: None of the information provided herein constitutes legal advice on behalf of Monster.