HR Help: How to Terminate an Employee for Poor Performance

 In Human Resources

Terminating an employee is always hard, and the circumstances are rarely simple. There’s no way to make it easy, but you can ensure that you’ve taken all the necessary steps to make this difficult process as smooth as possible.

In this post, we will cover:

  • The steps we recommend taking before you make the final decision to terminate an employee
  • How to handle the meeting and what to say when terminating an employee

Checklist for Terminating an Employee

It helps if you can show that you’ve done your best to give each employee a real opportunity to succeed. This will likely help clarify your decision in the eyes of other employees, and also protect you and your company in the event that you need to defend your decision.

Use Detailed Job Descriptions

Having an accurate, thorough, detailed job description is essential and extremely important. It should be reviewed during the hiring process and have the new employee sign and date the job description, stating they understand their expectations, responsibilities and have the knowledge, skills, and experience to perform the required functions for the position.

Not only does it help with the hiring process, but it also gives you something clear to point to when evaluating employee performance. If someone isn’t fulfilling their responsibilities, you can refer back to the job description.

Be Clear About Your Expectations

Even with a detailed job description, it’s still good to reiterate employees’ roles and responsibilities when they come onboard.

Give Feedback

Check in regularly as employees get settled in, especially if you have cause for concern early on. Don’t hesitate to give constructive criticism when necessary. Be as specific as possible about what needs to change.

Document Indications of Poor Performance

It’s necessary to have a record of your reasons for terminating an employee. This means keeping track of email conversations and writing down important dates, circumstances, and conversations.

Understand Employment and Termination Laws in Your Area

Employees and employers have different legal rights in each state. For example, Oregon is an “at-will” employment state, which means an employer can terminate an employee “at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all” ( as long as the termination isn’t discrimination or retaliation and doesn’t contradict any other statues or contracts.

Talk to a Human Resources Specialist

If your company doesn’t have an HR department, an HR consultant, like Rush Recruiting & HR, can help you make sure that reasonable precautions and legal compliance are taken. We can also help put together the materials you need, such as a separation packet.

How to Terminate an Employee

It’s understandable to feel nervous, sad, or any combination of emotions when faced with the task of terminating someone’s employment. Let’s go through how to handle it step by step.

When and Where to Have the Conversation

It’s always best to tell the employee in person and in private. Even if you have another manager or HR representative with you, choose a place where you won’t be interrupted and where others can’t see or hear you. It is also best practice to do it early in the day and early in the work week, if possible.

Chair and desk inside an HR office

What to Say When Terminating an Employee

Be straightforward. It’s great to be respectful and compassionate, but avoid trying to lighten the mood with small talk. It’s best to set the tone for the meeting right away by letting the employee know you’re there to deliver bad news.

Be honest about why you are terminating the person’s employment. Stick to objective facts that you know and avoid saying anything that might sound like you’re making assumptions about the person’s feelings, motivations, or personal matters.

Make it clear that the decision has already been made. Speak in past tense (i.e. “We have made the decision…”). You have most likely spent considerable time thinking about this. You want to make it clear to the employee that you took the decision seriously and are not willing to reconsider.

Be prepared for their response. Even if you have a good idea of how the person will respond, be prepared for the unexpected. The person may be emotional. They may argue with your decision. Or they may feel embarrassed and seem in a rush to get out of the meeting. If conflict happens, let the employee say their piece. Do hear them out but avoid getting bogged down in responding to individual arguments — stick to your original message.

Briefly go over next steps. You may need to explain what will happen with the person’s benefits, remaining paid time off, and other details. Give them any necessary documentation and paperwork.

Thank them for their work. End the meeting by thanking the person for their contribution to the company.

HR Consulting: Get Help and Advice from Experts

At Rush Recruiting & HR, we can help you with every aspect of this difficult process. We also specialize in talent acquisition and onboarding, so you can successfully fill the vacant position with someone who is a great fit for your company’s needs and culture.

Call us today at (503) 481-1285 to get started.

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