The Process for Performance-Based Termination

Firing employees due to their lack of performance should never be done on the fly. In addition to training and current and clear job descriptions, there is a prudent process for termination. Establishing a standing policy in place for how you discipline and fire before you ever terminate an employee can save you a lot of headaches. Moreover, you want to give employees plenty of time to improve, and give them the tools needed to get there.

Documentation is key, even in the case of informal conversations written in a notebook. In the end, there should be no surprises when you have the final conversation.

Here is a layout of how a performance-based firing should go:

1.  Before disciplining. There should be a policy already in place for how discipline and termination should take place. This will ensure that you are consistent when an issue comes up.

2.  90 days out. As early as 90 days before the termination, under-performing employees should have been told what they were doing wrong and how they should have corrected it. Rather than a lecture, this should be a conversation where they weigh in on how the behavior can be corrected.”When they set their own goals, and they don’t do it, it makes for an easier termination,” says Steve Roppolo, managing partner at Fisher & Phillips LLP’s Houston office.

A date for a follow-up session should be given during this session. Make sure the meeting is documented. Documentation can be as simple as handwritten notes in a notebook, if only to remind you how you handled a situation. It doesn’t hurt to send a follow-up e-mail on plans of action and have the employees sign a document saying they attended the meeting, even if they sign at the bottom that they don’t agree with the decision.

3.  60 days out. Thirty days later, hold a follow-up meeting. Don’t put it off. Make sure you document and have employees sign that they attended the meeting. Give them specific feedback on how they’re doing. If results are mixed, share with them what they’re doing right, as well as what they’re doing wrong.

4.  The final notice. By the time you’re here, you should have given fair, repeated warning that their behavior is unacceptable, says Mary Hladio, founder and CEO of Cincinnati-based Ember Carriers Leadership Group. You’ll want to follow the same procedure: specific feedback, document, and a signature. Tell employees that this is their final warning and that performance must improve immediately.

“You want it to be close to the termination. You don’t want it to be six months out,” says Roppolo. “It should be enough time to improve performance, about 30 days.”

5.  Termination. By now, you should have clearly documented what you did to help under-performing employees improve. In the case of performance, termination shouldn’t be a surprise.”If it is, you haven’t been working with them,” Roppolo says.