5 things you should never say when dismissing an employee


Originally published via Portner Press

Once you decide to dismiss an employee, after considering all the legal implications and establishing that it is lawful to do so, taking the final step of conducting the dismissal meeting can feel daunting.

If a dismissal meeting is not handled well, the ex-employee may react hostilely and be more inclined to take legal action, particularly if the firing manager is perceived to have been bullish or insensitive.

However, there are steps you can take to avoid any hostility and mitigate the potential for legal claims after dismissal.

Preparing for the meeting

Do the following to prepare for the dismissal meeting:

Ask the employee if they wish to be accompanied by a support person.

While you may also want to have a witness present during the meeting (such as an HR professional or another manager), consider the situation carefully. Having a third person present may be perceived as an attempt to ‘gang up’ on the dismissed employee.

Organise the meeting in a location that minimises disruption.

Ideally, the dismissal meeting should be held away from other employees to avoid staff witnessing emotional outbursts.

Review the documentation you have prepared, including the employee’s personnel file and associated documents.

This will help you to crystallise the reasons for your decision and ensure you are paying the proper entitlements to the employee, such as accrued leave and notice period payments.

Prepare a script and be clear on the main issues you want to discuss.

This will help you to avoid being sidetracked and forgetting important points.

Conducting the meeting

To help the meeting go as smoothly as possible, take these steps:

  1. Inform the employee that you intend to dismiss them.
  2. Explain why they are being dismissed. While you don’t have to go over every last detail, ensure that you provide a reasonable explanation.
  3. Be calm and don’t argue if the conversation becomes heated.
  4. Give the employee an opportunity to outline any reasons to explain why the dismissal should not occur. Take these reasons into account before finalising your decision.
  5. Allow the employee time to vent their feelings. It’s important not to interrupt or talk over the employee.
  6. If there are no mitigating circumstances provided by the employee, issue the dismissal in writing.
  7. After confirming the termination of employment, move on to housekeeping issues, such as when the final pay for all entitlements will be provided.

Things to avoid saying in the meeting

Avoid saying the following things during the dismissal meeting as you may come across as being insensitive, insincere and/or you may agitate the employee:

  • ”l am sure you will find another job soon.” — This is simply something you cannot predict.
  • “The dismissal was not my decision.”— At the meeting, you represent the business and you are accountable for the decision.
  • “I feel bad.” or “This is hard for me too.” — You cannot feel the same way the employee does about the situation.
  • “You are not as good as your colleague.” — Never compare employees. Remember, the dismissal should be based on the individual’s failure to perform.
  • “It’s probably for the best.” or “It won’t take you long to come to terms with this.” —The employee will not share your optimism at this stage.

What to do after the meeting

It is generally best that the employee leaves on the day they are dismissed.

If you have planned sufficiently, e.g. the handover of work and resourcing, nothing is gained from asking the employee to work through their notice period. Both the dismissed employee and other team members will feel a range of emotions, none of which will be positive or productive.

Take these steps following the dismissal meeting:

  1. Cancel the employee’s access to computer systems and the work premises.
  2. Gather company belongings from the employee, e.g. keys and company laptop.
  3. Allow the employee to retrieve any belongings from their workspace if they wish to. If they do not want to go back to their workspace, allow them to leave and return later, or consider sending their belongings to them.
  4. Provide them with transportation home if required, such as a taxi.
  5. Ensure prompt payment of final pay and other statutory entitlements, such as annual leave.
  6. Document the termination meeting, including any comments made by the employee. Keep this document in the employee’s file (for most types of employee information you should keep records for seven years).
  7. Inform other employees and clients of the departure as soon as possible. However, keep the reason for the dismissal confidential. You only need to advise your current employees and clients that the employee no longer works for the business.
  8. If you believe the employee is volatile or hostile, you may have to escort them off the premises. However, this should only be used as a last resort as it’s humiliating and you don’t want to appear heavy-handed.

Be very careful when deciding to dismiss an employee

Even if you deal with an employee dismissal in a civil and prudent manner, if you’re not entirely familiar with every detail of the law, you could leave yourself open to an extremely costly legal claim. Make sure this doesn’t happen.

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