Dismissing Someone with Kindness
Letting someone go is tough. Doing it nicely is even harder. In this week’s update we ask the question:
“Is it possible to fire someone without them hating me?” The answer, of course, can be complicated and it will largely depend on the circumstances of the dismissal and your relationship with the employee. Firstly, why are they being fired?
“Firing” someone, usually refers to a dismissal because of a conduct or performance issue. Unlike redundancy or retirement, you are ending someone’s contract because of their actions. As a result, it is much easier for the individual to take the firing personally.
Remember, there are five fair reasons for dismissal:
4. Statutory restriction or illegality
5. ‘Some other substantial reason’
For the purposes of this update, we’ll be focusing on the first two, as these are the most contentious. In terms of how to fire someone ‘nicely’:
1. Follow a fair process
Before you even think about tone of voice or any support you can offer, you need to ensure your process is fair. This is the first kindness you can show. It’s also a sensible business decision. Failing to follow a fair procedure will make the rest of the process difficult—it will also open you up to claims of unfair dismissal. Be on the lookout for unconscious bias or discrimination too. You cannot fire someone kindly after having discriminated against them.
In cases of gross misconduct, you can terminate an employee’s contract without notice. Instant dismissal offences include:
· Damage to company property
· Health & safety breach
· Use, possession, or buying/selling of drugs on the premises
This does not mean though that you don’t have to follow a fair process – ‘summary dismissal’ simply means without notice.
Except in cases of gross misconduct, a dismissal shouldn’t happen suddenly. You should raise concerns in an informal one-to-one meeting. If there isn’t an improvement, you can escalate the issue. If the issue still persists, you should start to issue formal warnings. If the employee takes no heed of these, then you can consider dismissal. The important point to note here is that you have given them every opportunity to improve. It also gives them the opportunity to address concerns and explain the reason for their actions.
When the time for dismissal comes, it then shouldn’t be a huge shock to the employee. This means you can have a better conversation, and a better ending to the relationship.
When it comes to telling them that they are being dismissed, you should keep it short and direct. Beating around the bush or trying to explain too much will only cause confusion and frustration. Clarification can come afterwards when you have given the individual a moment to process, and then go into further detail…
Feedback should happen throughout the entire dismissal process. This will help ensure your process is fair, but it will also give you talking points to refer back to later on. During the final meeting, try to keep feedback balanced. If all you do is list reasons why they are being dismissed, they’re likely to resent you. Instead, refer to the positives of working with them and express regret that you can’t continue your working relationship under the circumstances.
This is key to a kind dismissal. Sometimes the situation is out of your control. An employee will likely find out if they’ve been lied to. Being as transparent as possible during the process will stop any resentment further down the road. In most cases, the individual will appreciate your honesty, and feel more comfortable discussing things openly with you in the time they have left.
Depending on the circumstances of the dismissal, you may not feel comfortable offering them additional support. However, if you do feel comfortable, you absolutely should. Letters of recommendation and referrals will help them find new employment quicker. If you have an employee assistance programme (EAP), you could refer them for advice on finding new employment as well as wellbeing support.
Things to consider for a conduct dismissal
In cases of misconduct, and especially gross misconduct, tensions will be high. For this reason, despite your best efforts, the employee may react negatively to a dismissal. As an employer, you have to accept that sometimes you won’t be able to make everyone happy.
If an employee could, or has, damaged your business’s reputation, it makes sense to let them go. If they’ve discriminated, harassed, or created a hostile environment for their colleagues, it definitely makes sense to let them go.
Conduct dismissals can easily become heated. If an employee shouts or screams at you, try your best not to match their tone. Rely on facts and figures gathered in one-to-one meetings and evidence from your disciplinary process. Your main focus at this point should be compliance and a clean dismissal.
Things to consider for a capability dismissal
Capability dismissals are particularly tough as the employee can’t help their condition. It’s vital that you remain sensitive throughout the process and do everything you can to support the employee. This includes considering reasonable adjustments and maintaining regular contact with them staff member.
Offer all the support you can give and recognise their contribution to the company. If you wish to maintain a good relationship with the individual, lead with compassion.
Termination of an employment contract is an unfortunate reality when it comes to business ownership. How you handle the termination will determine how staff feel about you—including those who remain with the company. Your first priority should always be compliance. Failure to be compliant with current employment legislation could result in costly tribunal claims. However, employee morale and company reputation are also important. These will be directly impacted by how you handle a dismissal.