The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Get the (Expletive) Out! How to Fire Someone

Man, firing people can be such a joy. Sure, they may have seven kids, but they didn't meet their sales quota last week. We don't take too kindly to slackers around here, right?

So, what's a boss to do when employees aren't pulling their weight? Fire 'em! Why carry around dead weight when you can replace them with someone better?

Firing people the wrong way, however, can come back to bite you. Here are some tips:

What Not to Do

Warning: Ari Gold uses explicit language in this clip (NSFW):

Other things to avoid include firing an employee due to their age, disability, gender, or any other reason unrelated to their work performance.

What to Do

Keep it private: This is not only good for the employee, but good for your company morale as well. Nothing makes other employees quiver faster than seeing someone publicly humiliated. Of course, if your office runs on fear, that might be a good thing. However, disgruntled former employees tend to do stupid things, so we'd recommend ending things as privately and as amicably as possible.

Record (almost) everything: The last thing you want is a "he said/she said" battle about why the employee was fired. If they aren't meeting quotas, tell them so in writing. Email is great for keeping an ongoing written dialogue. If there's a record of the employee's poor performance, other alleged motives will seem far less plausible to a court.

When in doubt, consult a lawyer: There are state laws, federal laws, disability laws, medical leave laws, EEOC regulations, and dozens of other applicable rules that employers have to comply with when hiring, firing, or promoting their workers. If you are at all in doubt about whether or not the employment decision is legal, or if you think the soon-to-be ex-employee is the litigious type, get a lawyer as soon as possible. They might even be able to help you plan the departure to minimize any legal exposure.

Check the employee's contract status: Though most employees are at will, meaning you can fire them for any legal reason, or just because you are having a bad day, some employees have contracts. Double check to make sure that if they are covered by a contract, you're prepared to comply with any required terms, such as notice and/or severance pay.

It can actually be a relief to shed the dead weight. There's no reason to keep an underperforming employee on the payroll.

Just remember, hell hath no fury like an employee scorned, especially the employee with five kids and a house payment.

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