Terminating an employee is never pleasant. The employee may become angry, distraught or even disruptive. Who knows if the fired employee will show up months later at the company holiday party or blast the client e-mail list with unprofessional drama? With careful planning, managers can avoid the biggest challenges of firing an employee.

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Impact on Coworkers

A firing can affect morale for everyone left behind. The rest of the office may spend hours around the water cooler debating why the employee was fired and who will be the next person to go. Smart managers won’t share the details of any employee’s situation, even a former employee, but it’s also important to address company-wide rumors. A short statement explaining that the firing was a one-time event reached after several months of consideration is vague enough to respect the fired employee’s privacy but specific enough to reassure the rest of the staff that no one else is on the chopping block.

Legal Considerations

State discrimination laws vary, but in general, it’s illegal to fire an employee for their race, religion, gender, sex or pregnancy status. According to the New York Times, it may soon be illegal in all states to fire an employee for their sexual orientation. All firings should be related to well-documented performance issues. Following a standardized plan with all employees will minimize the chances of discrimination accusations and provide a solid defense to any legal issues related to firing an employee.

Post-Employment Considerations

Fired employees don’t vanish as soon as the office doors shut behind them. Managers must be ready to address several issues: What happens if a terminated employee asks for a reference? How long should companies hold a fired employee’s final paycheck? How can the business recover any equipment or uniforms after letting an employee go? Before heading into a meeting to terminate an employee, managers should have a plan to address these questions. Ideally, this plan would be written in an employee handbook to ensure all workers are treated equally.

Impact on Managers

Firing an employee is emotionally draining, especially if the employee argues or begs for another chance. Good managers build positive relationships with employees, often learning about personal relationships, financial difficulties or long-term plans. It’s challenging for a manager to fire an employee who is struggling with personal issues, but unfortunately, that’s one of the tough tasks that managers face. Some of the emotional difficulty of terminating an employee can be alleviated with clear communication. A firing should never be a spur-of-the-moment decision or a surprise to the employee; instead, it should come after several months of directly telling an employee to make changes. Managers may need to go home or take a long lunch break after firing an employee. It’s appropriate to have a negative emotional reaction or lowered productivity after such a difficult task, but no matter what, management should avoid confiding in other employees about the circumstances of the termination.

No matter how many times a manager fires an employee, the experience never gets easier. The best way to alleviate the difficulties of terminating an employee is to create and follow a standardized plan for every situation.