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April 2, 2013
5 Ways to Handle a Layoff or Firing
Terminating an employee, whether by layoff or firing, is never a pleasant task. For the employee, a poorly handled termination can add insult to already painful injury.
Here's how to go about it without fanning the emotional flames — and with less chance of a lawsuit:
1. Let Cooler Heads Prevail
Don't fire an employee while you're angry and tensions are high. If you let your feelings get the best of you and act in a hostile way during the firing, you raise your chances of the employee filing a lawsuit. Walk away and cool down; suspend the employee if the situation calls for it, but try to be calm and collected when you do the actual firing.
2. Have a Little Empathy
Remember that being laid off or fired is a highly stressful event, and try to be empathetic. Allowing your employee to keep his or her dignity through the process will go a long way toward making it go as smoothly as possible. Don't lay off employees during the holidays, and keep terminations private — not in front of coworkers.
Give your employee specific details about why you're firing him or her. This clarity helps keep imagination at bay, and can cut down on the risk of the employee suing you for age or gender discrimination.
3. Plan Ahead
Hold the termination meeting in a neutral place, and keep it short — 20 minutes or less, if possible. There's no hard rule about what day or time to have this meeting, so long as you're well prepared to answer any questions the employee may have.
Take an HR representative with you to act as a witness, and to explain the employee's benefits, if any (such as leftover vacation time). You should also provide this information in writing, since the emotional jolt from the bad news may make it difficult for the person being fired to remember all the details.
4. Be Respectful During Layoffs
Give your workers a heads-up that the layoff is coming; if you're a larger employer, you're required by federal law to give 60 days' advance notice. If possible, break the news to workers individually, and give them time to ask questions. Give them honest answers about why they are in the group to be laid off, and be sure to thank them for their hard work.
5. Keep Up Morale Among Your Remaining Workers
A layoff or firing isn't just stressful for those being terminated. Remaining workers may have to take on extra duties now that there are fewer employees. In the case of a large layoff, you may have to give employees extra training to cover jobs previously done by the laid-off workers.
Communicate with your employees throughout the layoff process, providing honest answers to questions.
Those left behind after a mass layoff will likely be anxious about their own jobs; being clear about the reason for the layoff can help calm these concerns.

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Freelance blogger Angie Mansfield covers a variety of subjects for small business owners. From business growth to marketing to how to make a budget, her work will give you tips to keep your business running smoothly.
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