Now I’m not a lawyer or human resources manager, but as a management consultant I have helped fire a fair share of employees. For years, many companies have let a blazing economy and shortage of people hold them hostage.

Now I’m not a lawyer or human resources manager, but as a management consultant I have helped fire a fair share of employees. For years, many companies have let a blazing economy and shortage of people hold them hostage. Now that the marketplace has slowed, it is time to clean up your ranks and enforce some discipline. The following is Management 101 and not meant to be sound legal advice - just some good common sense rules to live by.

Rule 1: Make sure everyone one understands your expectations. When employees come to work each day there are general expectations: show up on time and be ready to work, have your tools, and get along with your fellow employees. If you don’t make these expectations known and public it is difficult to hold employees accountable. It’s like having a new dog; if he doesn’t know what he can and can’t do, you will never get him trained. We are not talking about employee handbooks but rather 10 or so basic policies that are clear and precise. Yes, these things should be common sense but what is common sense to you does not seem to be so common with employees. We are talking about the basics - things such as rules on tardiness, theft, internal fisticuffs, etc.

It is important to note that all employees must be held to the same rules and expectations, including family members. Such consistency is difficult but it is the only way to have a personnel system that has integrity.

Rule 2: If you set up-front ground rules, they choose not to participate. If your employees choose not to follow the company rules, you are not firing them. They are quitting. It’s like a football team. There are certain disciplines you must follow to be part of the team. You must wear the proper uniform, attend practices, learn the plays, be on time and ready to play in the game each week, etc. If you have workers that choose not to participate and follow the rules, they can’t be on the team.

Rule 3: Good management is consistent. When you touch a stove you know is always hot, you know you will get burned. You know this will happen every time, and it is immediate. Internal company discipline should follow these same rules.

Rule 4: Without accountability, we are just pretending rules are meaningful. You can talk to someone until you are blue in the face about being late. Until you put something in writing documenting this issue they will not sit up and take notice. Having something in writing will also help to protect you as an employer.

To make the difficult process of firing someone easier, use the three strike rule. Like in baseball, three strikes and you’re out. If you have verbally warned the employee about being late, the next step is a formal write-up. The write-up does not have to be a legal form. It should include the employee’s name, the date, what happened, and should be signed by the employee and supervisor. This makes it clear what happened, when, and that it was recognized by both parties. If the employee violates the rule and is written up three times, they are out.

Rule 5: Dismissing people is not always fair. Letting an employee go for economic reasons is another issue entirely and one of the hardest things an owner or manager has to do. I am familiar with the gut-wrenching feeling of letting someone go because the company can no longer afford them. To tell someone that they no longer have a job and have done nothing wrong does not seem fair, but it is something more and more of us are dealing with in difficult economic times.

There are a few things you can do to soften the blow to the laid-off employee. Let them know that they have done a good job for you and you appreciate their hard work and service. If you can afford to, offer a severance package to longtime employees. Offer to help them find another job. Business owners know other business owners, so use your connections to try and help them obtain another job. Take the time to write a letter of recommendation and let them know you can be used as a reference for a future employer.

Rule 6: The entitled employee is a good employee gone bad because you did not enforce policy. Now comes what may be the most difficult employee to let go, the entitled employee. This is someone that has worked for you for a long period of time that may have started out as a good employee but over time has worked less, expected more and their once good attitude has soured. They don’t feel they have to follow the same rules as everyone else and your lack of policy enforcement brought this on.

Before letting this person go, put the rules in place and start a performance file. Document their issues and make clear you would like for them to change. Start your second chance in writing with expectations clearly laid out.

It probably will be too late to save this person and you must make sure you cover all the bases when letting them go. It is best to have another party in the room; having a witness to the dismissal helps to ensure you are covered as a business owner from what is likely to be a disgruntled former employee. You should also have this person gather their things immediately and escort them to the door. This type of employee is most likely to cause a scene.

While there is no good time for letting someone go, when the time comes, just do it and be done with it. The longer you draw it out the harder it is going to be on you. I feel the best time to let someone go is first thing in the morning. You get it out of the way and can move on. If you wait until the end of the day your other employees will recognize the stress you are under and wonder what is going on. This makes for a bad day at work.

By setting rules and expectations and holding employees accountable for their actions you ensure the behavior of your employees and make the process of letting someone go less painful.