How to fire someone legally, socially and remotely

'It's important to follow a process that’s inherently human'

How to fire someone legally, socially and remotely

In this remote world it’s normal to be hired and fired without ever having met your manager face-to-face. Global talent pools and WFH models means that we’re often not in the same time zones as our teams let alone the same building. As such, employers need to be mindful of their policies to ensure that any termination procedures are both legally compliant and ethically sound.

“It’s important to follow a process that’s inherently human,” says Robert Stone, chief people officer at Wunderman Thompson. “You should be following the same process if you're having to make redundancies in person, however the consultation period and delivery of these conversations is really important.”

Remember, just because we’re sitting behind a screen doesn’t mean the legal format changes, or that there’s any excuse for rudeness.

Remember, even if you’re firing someone remotely, you still need to follow the same procedures as you would if you were in person. Just because we’re sitting behind a screen doesn’t mean the legal format changes  - or that there’s any excuse for rudeness.

“Treat the employee with respect,” says Lorenzo Lisi, partner at Aird and Berlis. “Ensure you have the termination letter at hand and that the correct people are in the call. In regards to the letter, you need to consider how you’re going to get that to them after the call. Will you mail it to them? Will you send an email? It’s also important to think about any severance packages or payments you need to make following the termination.”

Decide who should be on the call

Lisi recommends having more than one member of management on that call – and go easy with the recordings.

“I’m not a fan of recoding these meetings,” he says. “I think it juts amps up the tension. However, you should be aware that the employee is potentially recording the call. So stick to your script and address all the issues you would normally bring up if you were face-to-face with the employee.”

It’s about adhering to the process. In remote work, where everyone’s communicating via screens, it can be easy to lose out on that human touch. In dealing with something as sensitive as terminations, employers can’t afford to go in all guns blazing. People are likely even more stressed out and anxious in WFH set ups, so be aware of their feelings and the potential ramifications of being too heavy handed.

It’s important to “consider the room”, so to speak. When you’re terminating an employee, it’s absolutely essential that the meeting is being handled by someone who has a direct relationship with them. All too often senior managers decides to hop on the call and carry out the firings themselves – thinking this shows leadership. It doesn’t. It simply undermines HR’s position and makes the whole experience very cold and uncomfortable for the worker.

“I have a strong view on who should be having these difficult conversations and believe that it should always be the direct line manager with support from HR,” says Stone. “The stories of CEOs and executives hosting mass redundancies over teams they have no relationship or connection to is really wrong. Every employee deserves the time and opportunity to have a detailed and in-depth conversation with someone that they know or are comfortable with.”

Dealing with emotional reactions

As you’d expect, employees often become distressed during these meetings – and oftentimes the firing comes as a complete surprize. A report from Forbes found that 87% of employees who’ve been fired said there was no indication of what was about to happen. What’s more, 59% said they’d not received a performance review leading up to the call. There’s a sense from management that an employee “expects” to be fired – but in reality, they’re often blindsided by it. As such, it’s important to be cognizant of high emotions during the call.

“If they become upset during the meeting, give the employee some time to compose themselves,” says Lisi. “End the meeting, and let them compose themselves. Don’t insist that they stay on the call or intimidate them in any way.”

Following up with support

And remember, even after the call ends your duties as an employer don’t. You need to follow up with the terminated employee, check-in with them and see how they’re doing. It might be necessary for you to offer some counselling or guidance sessions to protect their wellbeing.

“I still believe that once the consultation has begun, businesses should offer the potentially impacted employees the opportunity to have further conversations face-to-face with a support person present,” says Stone. “It’s important to give impacted employees options to ensure they’re feeling as comfortable and supported as possible.”

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