The Step-by-Step Guide to Firing a Remote Employee
There are ways to make the process fair, respectful and relatively painless.
Startups with small teams are like families. Firing a member of that family is rarely easy -- especially when the person in question works remotely.
“When we are evaluating terminating someone -- eliminating their livelihood -- we have to work hard to ensure we have a full picture of the circumstances,” says Rex Castle, national speaker and author of Selecting the Brass Ring. “Getting the full picture is even more critical for a remote employee who doesn’t have the benefit of being present.”
Unfortunately, even with generous performance plans and every benefit of the doubt, sometimes a remote worker and company just aren’t the right fit. Once you decide to terminate one of your remote employees, follow this guide to keep the process as fair and painless as possible.
1. Get your documentation in order.
You don’t need to delay the conversation until Friday afternoon, and you don’t need to fire the employee the moment you make the decision, either. After you commit to the firing -- take the afternoon to make sure all your paperwork is in order.
Do you have documentation to support the firing? Have you consulted with HR to ensure you won’t run into any logistical problems? Lawsuits are rare -- but don’t let your relationship with your employee prevent you from following proper procedure.
2. Book your flight.
Even if you only see your remote employee a couple times a year -- do the noble thing and conduct the termination conversation in person.
The person being fired might not be the right fit for your company -- but that doesn’t mean he or she won’t find success elsewhere. You can limit the pain of the blow, and potentially turn a rejected worker into a brand ambassador, by delivering rejection with respect.
Don’t fly the soon-to-be-fired employee to the main office. By flying to the remote location you can leave if the conversation turns sour. A video call is the next best thing if travel is not an option, but an in-person conversation is always preferable.
3. Keep it personal.
Nothing is more insulting to an employee being terminated than the phrase, “This isn’t personal.” It might not be personal to you -- but to the person losing the job (even under justifiable circumstances), the decision is highly personal. Enter the conversation with the understanding that this person will take the news as a personal indictment.
If the termination is financially driven, explain why. Offer to provide a recommendation for future opportunities. If the termination is performance-based -- outline the reasons for the decision briefly. There’s no need to belabor the point -- anyone being fired for performance knows what went wrong.
At the end of the conversation, provide a contact point in HR so the terminated employee can get access to severance documents, including health insurance instructions and other important information.
4. Collect equipment and disconnect access.
This part can be tricky. You don’t want to treat your exiting employee like a criminal. You also want to protect your assets from retaliatory deletion or destruction. The correct policy when firing a remote employee is to assume the best but be prepared for the worst.
Let your head of IT know what time to terminate the fired employee’s access to company servers. When you meet with the employee explain that you need to collect any company equipment, like laptops and monitors, when you leave.
You don’t need to remind the employee that intentional deletion or theft of company files won’t be tolerated -- that person already knows this. A reminder will just stir up bad feelings.
5. Communicate to the rest of the team.
Speak to your team the same day of the termination to stop gossip before it starts. Leave out the details regarding how and why you fired the worker. A few employees close to the situation probably know what happened. Even on a small team, there’s no reason to drag the person’s performance or behavior into the open.
Never tell each employee individually. This can give the impression that you want to keep the situation quiet. This will cause further problems by encouraging workers to speculate about the firing. Call a meeting that includes both in-office and remote employees, deliver the news and move on.
In all ways, treat fired remote employees respectfully. It’s the right thing to do and the best approach for limiting the possibility of retaliation.
Firing a remote employee might be unpleasant and difficult but don’t let the potential problems dissuade you from offering remote work options. Modern employees seek flexible benefits like remote work. You can attract higher quality talent by keeping remote options on the table.
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