Is It Legal to Fire Someone Over the Phone?

Can You Fire Someone Over the Phone? (Is It Legal?)

Thinking of firing an employee over the phone? Before you do, read this article to determine if it’s legal and acceptable.

Can You Fire Someone Over the Phone? (Is It Legal?)

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As a business owner or manager, you are responsible for making difficult decisions that can directly impact your team’s success and growth. From time to time, these decisions may include letting go of an employee. While it’s never an easy task, terminating an employee can be an essential part of running a successful business.

But can you fire someone over the phone? Is it legal? We uncover the answers in this article. 

Employement termination letter
Source: Dental & Medical Counsel

Can You Fire Someone Over the Phone Legally?

There are no federal employment laws that prohibit employers from terminating employees over the phone. However, some states may have laws requiring employers to provide their employees with a notice of termination in writing or in person. So before you think about firing an employee over the phone, check the labor laws in your state—and, of course, your own company policies. 

If your state does not require a formal written or in-person notice to terminate an employee, you can opt to fire an employee by phone. However, we recommend you first consider face-to-face video conferencing, as 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. 

What Are the Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Terminate an Employee Over the Phone or Video Conference?

Even if you can fire an employee over the phone or video conference, it is generally not a recommended practice. Terminating an employee is a decision that requires careful consideration and sensitivity—and, in this case, those are hard things to communicate over the phone or a video call. Here are some reasons it’s best to avoid it. 

Impersonal and disrespectful

Terminating an employee over the phone can come across as cold and impersonal. Instead of a healthy and amicable departure, it can leave your employee feeling humiliated and angry. You might think that’s something you no longer have to worry about because you’ve dismissed them, but it can open up a lot of risks to your company’s reputation. 

Remember, the employee you are terminating will likely talk to your current employees (and maybe even future employees) about the termination. Therefore how you terminate employees should align with the company culture you are trying to foster, as this will play a role in employee retention and job satisfaction. 

Difficult to document

Phone calls are difficult to document, and it can be hard to prove what was said during the call. If the employee decides to file a wrongful termination lawsuit after being terminated, you might find it difficult to defend your decision. 

In comparison, a written termination is much easier to document. You’ll have paperwork that clearly outlines the termination, the reason for it, and the employee’s agreement, which will be very beneficial in case of a lawsuit. 

May lead to misunderstandings

In voice calls, you can’t see the person you’re speaking with, so you won’t have the aid of non-verbal cues to gauge how they’re taking the information. It’s also difficult to convey complex or sensitive information over the phone, which creates a lot of room for misunderstandings.

This can be particularly difficult when terminating an employee—you want to make sure they understand the decision clearly without any room for confusion. 

Emotionally difficult for the employee

Firing someone is not easy, but it’s much harder for the person losing their job. It’s already a difficult event to go through, and being fired over the phone can make the experience even more difficult for the employee. It won’t give them the opportunity to process the bad news and communicate their emotions. 

The employee deserves to have their questions answered and provided with as much feedback as possible to help them improve in their next opportunity. Unfortunately, if you only rely on a phone call to terminate an employee, it’s difficult to provide enough context and feedback, making mutual respect and understanding very challenging.

When Is It Acceptable To Terminate an Employee Over the Phone?

While it’s not recommended to terminate an employee over the phone, there may be cases where you don’t have a choice. In the situations below, terminating someone over the phone may be the most efficient means of discussing the decision. 

Employee is not local or is on leave

If you cannot deliver the news in person, terminating them over the phone may be your only option. Despite that, ensure you don’t only give them a 20-second phone call telling them they’ve been terminated. You need to make the experience as personable and comfortable as possible. 

Explain why they’re being terminated, express your gratitude for their work, and perhaps ask exit interview questions (or offer to email an exit interview form) so they feel their voice is still valued despite the decision. 

Employee has already been terminated

If you’ve formally terminated the employment already, you no longer need to meet with them in person to discuss additional matters. You can talk over the phone, further expressing your gratitude for their service and discussing other admin things or further clarifications. 

employer talking to an employee about terminating employment

What Are the Best Practices When Terminating an Employee Over the Phone?

Should you decide that the best course of action is to terminate your employee over the phone, here are some best practices to make the experience amicable. 

Choose the right time

Before you grab your phone and call your employee to inform them about your decision to terminate the working relationship, ensure it’s the right time. Don’t fire an employee when they’re in the middle of something or otherwise stressed. Choose a time when they are clear-headed enough to focus on the conversation and have the time to ask questions. 

Be direct and to the point

Phone calls are prone to misunderstandings, so when terminating an employee over the phone, be direct and to the point. Don’t linger or say things that take the focus away from the decision.

Tell them straight that you have decided to let them go, provide the reasons for the decision, and then thank the employee for their work for your company. 

Be respectful and professional

Despite the need to be straightforward, avoid coming off rude or dismissive in the phone call. Stay professional and respectful to your employee. Even if the reason for their termination isn’t ideal, you still want to make sure you end your working relationship on a good note. 

Provide the employee with a copy of their termination paperwork

After the phone call, email or mail the employee their termination paperwork to formalize the decision. This document should include the date of termination, the reason for termination, and the employee’s severance package, if applicable. (You could also include signposting for any unemployment benefits they would be entitled to if the termination is not due to their fault.)

End the conversation on a positive note

After communicating your decision, thank them for their time and hard work. Wish them well in their future endeavors or offer to provide positive reference letters, if possible. This small act can make a big difference in how they feel about your decision to terminate their employment and can end your working relationship on a positive note. 

Conclusion

Employee termination is never easy, especially if you’re doing it over the phone. As much as possible, look for other ways to communicate the decision, whether that’s a video conference call or a face-to-face meeting. But if you absolutely need to do it over the phone, take our tips on the best practices and ensure you end your working relationship positively. 

As always, it’s crucial to consult with an employment lawyer to ensure you’re following local regulations when it comes to employment terminations. If you’re struggling with a termination decision, consider reaching out to professional assistance or consulting with other business leaders and HR professionals for guidance.

At Near, we specialize in connecting businesses with top-notch professionals. Whether you’re looking to fill a role fast or seeking long-term talent, we’ve got you covered. And we understand that sometimes placements don’t work out. But with us as your partners, there is no need to consider having that awkward termination conversation on the phone or otherwise. If your placement doesn’t meet your expectations, we will handle any awkward conversations and find you a replacement. 

Navigate through the complexities of recruitment with ease and confidence—reach out to us at Near today! Fill out this form for a list of pre-vetted candidates you can hire for free. 

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