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Guidance for Letting Go of an Employee or Contractor

When you dreamed of starting a business, you imagined building a productive growing organization that gelled together like a family. You may not have considered the day you must let one of your team members go.


Intoo reports that many Americans have been let go from a job at least once. Laying off an employee or contractor is a responsibility all good leaders must make to help a business thrive. 


Identify the Problem and Search for Alternatives

A person who continually misses performance metrics or brings down your organization's culture should not be allowed to continue without opportunities to correct the deficiency. Good leaders don't hesitate to address problems. An employee should have defined benchmarks that demonstrate success or room for improvement.


Schedule regular performance reviews where you discuss KPIs and how the team member measures up. Remind the person directly but gently that meeting specific metrics is required per their work contract.


With contractors, the agreement you both entered should spell out what the individual must accomplish and the time frames for work. If they have not held up their end of the deal, they can be liable for breach of contract. If freelancers are derelict in their duties, they may also be liable for damages. The agreement you signed must be legally enforceable for you to receive compensation, so get trustworthy legal advice before drawing up a contract.


Some behaviors or activities are nonnegotiable offenses calling for immediate termination. Explicitly state these in the work contract. The list might include:

  • On-the-clock substance abuse

  • Theft or company property damage

  • Multiple absences

  • Harassment or unethical behavior

  • Falsified application or resume


Tie Up Administrative Loose Ends

You need sufficient documentation in the employee's file in case of any legal challenges to the termination. Communicate with your HR and legal teams to ensure you handle the processes correctly, and discuss cutting off employee access to networks and devices with IT. 


Maintain an organization system that simplifies managing documentation. Instead of keeping many files, use a PDF extraction tool to compile relevant pages into a single document so your records are in one location. You can also use a tool that deletes unneeded pages from PDFs (like blank pages) in order to keep the file sizes as small as possible, making them easier to store, print, and share. PDFs are also searchable, which makes them more convenient if you need to find something specific later. 


Dignify the Individual

Once you have no other recourse than dismissal, treat the individual with respect throughout the process. SHRM explains that you should not embarrass them in front of others. Handle the termination and exit interview face to face. Discuss how things could have been different and share legitimate praise. Don't drag out the discussion or rehash your dissatisfaction. Be specific and prepare to answer relevant questions.


Protect Your Organization

If you maintain a practice of logging assigned keys, passwords, and company-owned devices, then retrieving these items will not be difficult. A third party should be present at the termination, or a recording should be made of the firing to document that you handled the process legally and ethically. Someone should escort the dismissed team member off the premises for security.


Update the Team

Control the narrative by speaking directly with your team about the situation. Do not divulge anything confidential, and speak respectfully of the former teammate. The person may vent frustration on social media or online, but you add doubt to adverse claims when you act respectfully.


Prepare Yourself 

Learning to release an employee or contractor gracefully requires unique competence and confidence. Make sure you know your legal rights, and do your best to approach the situation with tact and kindness. Taking the time to prepare in advance will help you to handle the difficult discussion well and to explain the change to the rest of your team.


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