The remote work movement was gaining quite a bit of momentum prior to the pandemic. A Pew Research Center survey conducted regarding remote work trends showed before COVID almost 20% of Americans worked from home at least five days a week. Fast forward to Spring/Summer 2020 and that number more than doubled. And by the end of 2020, just over 70% of respondents said that they were working from home. COVID unquestionably put the shift to remote work into hyperdrive.
So, what does this mean for small business owners moving forward? From how to streamline communications when your team is dispersed to how to ensure the utmost productivity from a largely remote workforce, entrepreneurs will be facing some challenging moments in the months and years to come. No major change is without its consequent growing pains. And as more and more businesses acclimate to a telework mentality, those growing pains are going to pose some problems—one such issue being terminating a remote employee.
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Difficulties Firing an Employee Virtually
First off, from an ethical, moral and also legal standpoint, can you fire an employee virtually? The short answer here is yes. Ideally, if circumstances permit, you would be able to have a face-to-face meeting with the employee in question. That said, given the current climate and the ever-pervasive trend toward an online/remote business culture, sometimes it cannot be avoided that critical and sensitive conversations have to take place via video conferencing. So, yes, you can terminate an employee virtually.
No termination is going to be easy. There usually is no cut-and-dry process involved with any type of firing. Things can get messy, feelings get hurt. This is why experienced HR professionals will usually tell you that if possible, terminating an employee in an in-person meeting is the preferred course of action. However, as noted, you may have no choice, in which case, it is so important to be organized, tactful and also direct in your approach.
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For most business owners, having to fire an employee is not an enviable task. But there is a point at which you can no longer afford to keep investing in an employee who is not meeting expectations and, consequently, not benefiting the company. If you are unable to meet with this individual in person, then you may be forced to terminate them virtually. In many ways, this can be uncharted territory for some business owners.
How To Terminate a Remote Employee
What is the best way to handle this type of situation? How do you prepare for this kind of remote meeting? Below are some guidelines and practices that you might follow in anticipation of having to let a remote employee go.
As mentioned, in-person delivery of this type of news is generally the best way to go. If this is not a possibility, then video is the preferred alternative. Using a video conferencing system is the next best option to a face-to-face meeting because it allows the employee to gauge facial expressions and body language during the termination. This can be helpful to make the termination feel more amicable.
In terms of scheduling the actual meeting, consider that your employee may be in a different time zone—you’re going to want to check on availability. You may also have to work with your IT department to navigate shutting down the employee’s email and any portal accesses. A good practice is to maintain a security checklist for offboarding employees to ensure all company account access has been removed, especially external service accounts that are not part of the internal infrastructure. Creating a deliberate timeline of events and checking all relevant boxes here will help make the process go smoother.
To diminish the risk of legal action down the road, it is good practice to have another leader from your organization on the video conference at the same time. Where possible, it can be helpful to have an HR representative present to explain what the employee can expect in terms of final pay and benefits. Be sure that the employee is aware of exactly who is involved in the meeting from the very beginning.
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Information and Answers Should Be Ready To Go
The employee is likely going to have questions; depending on the questions asked, you need to be able to answer them as comprehensively as possible. Gather all relevant information and have this available for reference during the meeting. When presenting information to the terminating employee, be clear and straightforward. The objective during this meeting is to inform the employee of the company’s decision to terminate, not to debate it.
In some cases, firing an employee could have a residual effect on your team. It may leave colleagues feeling confused and concerned. The last thing you want is for this event to disrupt the company and the course of business. You might address the employee’s departure via a face-to-face meeting or if necessary, a video conference.
When it comes to terminating an employee, the process can often be a difficult one. And when that employee is remote, it can make it even more challenging. Knowing how you’ll handle the situation, should it arise, ensures the best possible outcome for the organization and the departing employee.
If you need advice regarding employee termination, we are here to help. Our knowledgeable experts understand the nuances associated with issues that can arise in this new remote work climate. Call today to see how we might assist you!