When terminating an employee, there are many areas for companies to find themselves at risk. An employee that is performing poorly or violating company policy is not a situation to take lightly, so here are some steps to guide you through how to fire an employee while preventing potential legal repercussions.

Before you fire an employee

Before you do anything else, get in touch with your HR department and company lawyers to ensure that the termination is warranted and legal. Then you will need to notify your IT department so they know to terminate the employee’s computer and phone access to company servers, programs, etc. while you speak with the employee

You will also want to check the employee’s obligations, such as non-competes or confidentiality agreements. Reprint these documents and have them available as a reminder when terminating the employee in question.

Being fired should not come as a surprise to the employee. It should be clear that termination is the next step based on poor performance reviews or warnings from management that they are not meeting the expectations.

How to fire an employee

With some ground rules in place, let us dive into the actual logistics of how to fire an employee. A meeting should be scheduled, ideally towards the end of the workday, between you, your employee and a witness. The witness should be an HR or legal representative if possible. Find a private room in a shared space, such as a conference room, where you can meet with the employee face to face. Meeting in a community space allows you to leave the meeting when it concludes, as opposed to trying to usher an upset employee out of your office.

Be clear and concise and get right to the point. A meeting to terminate an employee is not the time or place for small talk. Let the employee know that they are being fired, offer a brief explanation that touches on issues that have been previously discussed with the employee (i.e. poor performance reviews) and explain that the termination is a final decision.

After you fire an employee

It would be ideal to have the last check in hand while firing an employee as to not create any unnecessary delays in this process but if that is not possible you will want to confirm the details of the former employee’s final paycheck with them (i.e. direct deposit, mailed to their home, etc.). Different states have different requirements when it comes to vacation or paid sick days as well as how soon an employee needs to receive the final check. Be familiar with what is expected of you as the employer.

When deciding whether or not to allow the employee an opportunity to gather their personal belongings from their desk or workstation, always use better judgment and err on the side of caution. If, during the firing, the employee seemed level-headed, it may be best to accompany and supervise them while they are packing up. Supervision is recommended to ensure no company property is taken. If the employee seemed disgruntled, agitated, or very upset, do not send them back through the office to their desk as they may disrupt other employees or further cause embarrassment to the former employee. Take all precautionary measures and have the employee wait outside while someone collects immediately-important things like wallet, purse, or keys. Take note of additional personal items and have them sent to his or her home by the following day or made available for the former employee to pick up. In the case that the employee has company property at home, make arrangements to meet or set a specific date and time that the employee can return to deliver all property to HR.

Try to conclude the experience on a positive note. Let the employee know that you wish them the best and are confident they will find a position that is a better fit for them.

Letting an employee go is never a positive experience for any party. By following the steps listed above for how to fire an employee, you can ensure that your company is protected from the potential legal backlash of a disgruntled former employee.