Every business leader will eventually face the unwelcome prospect of sacking an employee. Regardless of whether it’s a small local business or a multinational firm doing the firing, the way the process is handled can have serious implications for the future of the business, and the departing worker. These manifest both in terms of legal jeopardy, and in less concrete, but no less meaningful ways.

shutterstock 114700177 300x201 - Sacking employees is risky business

Failing to follow due process in a firing, or even the superficial appearance of improper conduct can lead to expensive legal battles, a souring company culture, reduced productivity, and employee attrition. Actively managing these risks, on the other hand, can help a business become stronger, and may even improve morale, and confidence in the business’ leadership.

Use legal counsel to help manage sackings

When an employee commits a serious offence that merits summary dismissal, it’s tempting to simply fire them on the spot. Acting immediately in this way, though, can mean losing control of the situation. Firing an employee with cause is well and good, but it also requires proof. If an employee decides to sue for wrongful dismissal, the burden of proof is on the business to show that it had cause for a summary dismissal.

Because of this, it’s important to get legal counsel before taking action. An attorney will be able to determine whether the available evidence is sufficient to stand up to a potential challenge in court. If the employee’s misconduct can’t be proven, the business will need to find another way forward —typically a move to dismiss the employee without cause, and to provide the necessary notice or severance pay.

Protect your company culture

Firing employees can have devastating impacts on the morale of other team members. This is true regardless of whether an employee was dismissed over misconduct, or one or more workers were let go without cause, perhaps due to budgeting issues. Seeing a coworker lose their job inevitably provokes feelings of anxiety. Worse, people with incomplete information might feel that a fired employee was unfairly treated, while others might fear for their own jobs, under the assumption that the business isn’t doing well.

These initial uneasy feelings can quickly escalate into resentment and anger if they aren’t addressed and managed properly. To do that, it’s important to maintain good communication with employees throughout the entire process, and to demonstrate a professional, understanding, and supportive attitude toward employees.

Consider using an outplacement service

Dismissals without cause, particularly layoffs that affect a significant number of workers, are especially difficult to swallow. In this case, it’s important to minimise the shock, as well as any emotional backlash that might result. A great way to do that is to use an outplacement service to help departing workers work through the transition. Outplacement services provide the guidance and support people need to successfully move forward with their life after a sacking, while also lending an ear to disgruntled former employees who would otherwise be forced to vent their frustrations to their former coworkers.

Lead the narrative

There are often two or more sides to a story, and it’s important for business leaders to control the narrative about who they are to their employees. While some firings might be controversial, others are clear cut, and make excellent, helpful object lessons. Using these as a way to reinforce the company’s core values to employees can benefit the business, and help to shape its culture in a positive way.

For example, firing an employee for the well-documented sexual harassment of a coworker is an opportunity to set an example, if it’s done properly. The disappearance of a problematic employee, accompanied by a general reminder of your business’ zero tolerance policy towards this type of behavior, clearly communicates what happened without exposing unnecessary details, or revealing the identity of the victim. As a result, workers will feel safer at work, while also being encouraged to report this type of misconduct in the future.

Other cases, such as when an employee is sacked for insubordination or off-duty conduct are better handled quietly. While these are valid reasons to fire someone without cause, punctuating such a dismissal with a statement can come across as overbearing and controlling, making employees feel less secure in their jobs. Whenever an employee needs to be dismissed, it’s important to consider the surrounding circumstances carefully before taking action. By taking legal implications, as well as cultural and personal impacts on employees into account, businesses can not only avoid many of the associated risks, but also build morale while reinforcing the company’s values.

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