Letting an employee go is never a good thing. But keeping a poor performer can poison your business.

You might think the termination is business as usual, but chances are the employee will take it personally. Face it, what we do at our job is big part of who we are. And being stripped of that identity can leave a person feeling alone and confused. A fired employee may try to blame others or jump to costly legal procedures if things don't go well. 

Here's how to handle an employee’s termination fairly while staying consistent and most of all, lawful.

Make a paper trail

If you're letting someone go due to poor performance, you're going to need evidence to show for it. All too often, I see businesses fail to properly document issues and wind up in court. Without a record of counseling, evaluations, and/or misconduct, you're going to be stuck. 

Get the higher-ups' input

Always get a manager's input--always. And especially at a small business. Getting everyone on board will make things a lot easier. If you have an HR department, reach out to them first. They may know more about the worker than you do. 

Follow the rules

Every company should have written policies such as employment agreements, workers' manuals and  department procedures. If you're terminating based on their failure to walk the line, make sure you have proof. Interpreting a policy more strictly than usual is a surefire path to a lawsuit. 

Come prepared

Never show up without a plan. Know answers to the big questions: When will the meeting take place? Who will be there? Where will it happen? And put every detail in writing. Likewise, discuss the termination beforehand with HR and legal so they know you're following company protocol. And don't forget the Kleenex--you might face a range of emotions that run the gamut from sadness to anger. 

Keep it simple. 

Keep calm and get right to the point. Clearly explain your rationale and go over next steps. 

Provide the right papers. 

Always provide benefit information and the worker's final paycheck. Provide a letter outlining severance, vacation pay, and other benefits for review. COBRA, a pension or 401(k) information should also be included by law. Here's a checklist to start: 

• Explanation of benefits (COBRA)
• Final paycheck or severance check
• Documents to sign (i.e., a termination notice or release)
• Explanation of confidentiality obligations
• Return of company property (key cards, etc.)

Call for backup

From having HR in the office to letting security show her the door, don't go it alone. 

Spread the news

When someone gets fired, remaining employees could start to fret over their own job security. If you're going to inform them, be brief, general, and respectful. You don't want something you said to come back and haunt you. 

Follow up

A discharged employee may call for information about the firing or access to paperwork. Although you are not legally bound to restate your decision, it's probably good to respond. Remember, some terminations may result in a lawsuit, so it's a good move to always be courteous. 

Keep it classy

You can't control the worker, but you can control yourself. As your company's representative, keep it professional and try to stay positive. 

Firing an employee will never be the high point of your career. But if you follow these tips, you should prevent it from being the low point.