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Tough Conversations: What to Keep in Mind When Firing an Employee

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Having tough conversations with employees comes with the territory of running a business.

And according to Christine Stanaszak, the human resource manager at Elite Sports Clubs, there are three specific types of tough conversations club operators should be prepared for.

In Stanaszak’s own words, those three meetings include:

  1. Coaching meeting: This is where you’re typically trying to turn them into a better employee by providing constructive criticism, guidance and feedback on where you’d like to see them improve.
  2. Discipline meeting: This is where you’re typically writing the employee up for an infraction or series of infractions.
  3. Termination meeting: This is where you’re letting the employee go. If you have an HR person, they should be present in this meeting.

For each of these meetings, Stanaszak explained it’s vital to be prepared. However, when terminating an employee, this is especially important. She advised consulting with your HR person and gathering the following materials:

  • Documentation of past incidents, including any verbal and written warnings.
  • Company rules you’ll be using as a reference. Document your reasons for termination based off of these company rules or policies. Make copies of any rules you’ll be referencing from the employee handbook.
  • Clear definitions of how an employee has been breaking the company rules.

“Unless the reason was very egregious, you usually don’t fire someone on the first offense,” said Stanaszak. “Employees should be given clear warnings prior to being let go.”

Although verbal warnings are just that — verbal — Stanaszak explained you should still document them in an employee’s personnel file so you have a record they occurred. For any written warnings, you should require the employee to sign off on it — and be sure to include verbiage that states, “If you do not correct these behaviors, termination could result,” so they clearly understand the potential consequences. Clarity is vital.

“Once you have decided to let an employee go, you want to decide who will be in the meeting — usually an HR person and the manager,” explained Stanaszak. “You should always have two company representatives involved in termination meetings to prevent a ‘he said, she said’ scenario from occurring.”  

However, according to Stanaszak, typically the manager would lead the meeting versus the HR person, because they have the relationship with the employee. The HR person is there to provide support, and typically coaches the manager prior to the meeting.

When it comes to delivering the message of a termination, Stanaszak explained she uses the “3 Fs” — Firm, Fair and Friendly:

  • Firm: You don’t want to get into an argument with the person you’re letting go. So just be clear and firm in the conversation.
  • Fair: At this point the employee shouldn’t be surprised because they’ve been given clear warnings. And because you’re applying company rules as reasons for the dismissal, you’re being fair. 
  • Friendly: During the conversation you want to be compassionate and respectful, because this obviously will be a blow to that person — they’re losing income, etc.

Lastly, Stanaszak explained you should have the employee sign off on the dismissal to ensure proper documentation.

“My big tip is to rehearse,” added Stanaszak. “Find somebody who you can sit down with and practice delivering the news. Because how it sounds in your head is often really different than how it comes out verbally. Say it out loud beforehand multiple times to ensure it comes out the way you’re intending.”

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Rachel Zabonick

Rachel Zabonick is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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