How to fire an employee

How to fire an employee

There’s nothing fun about the firing process: whether you’re giving or getting the news.

“No one likes to fire people, it doesn’t matter how successful or high up they are,” said Kristi Hedges, leadership coach and author of The Power of Presence.

But having to let workers go comes with the territory of being an employer.

And while there are a host of legal issues surrounding how to properly lay off a worker, experts said there are also practical and emotional considerations to take into account when delivering the news.

Don’t surprise them

If a worker is being fired for poor performance, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Hold regular employee reviews to go over any areas that need improvement, experts recommended. They don’t need to be super formal, but it allows workers time to improve or refocus.

Some states have what’s called at-will employment, which means workers can be fired at any time for any legal reason, but that doesn’t make it a good business practice.

“Legally you may be able to do that, but in many cases, firing an employee without having any reason — especially if it is for performance with no feedback or no indication of doing something — that is not a good way to operate a business,” said Dan Ryan, founder of Ryan Search & Consulting.

If the termination is due to a business model change, try to give affected workers as much notice as possible.

“Sometimes business necessities don’t allow [for a heads up] or for safety reasons you may not want to, each case is different,” said Paula Harvey, vice president of human resources at Schulte Building Systems in Texas. “Make a good decision on how to handle the terminations.”

Do it face to (familiar) face

Firing someone is always going to be uncomfortable. But it needs to happen in person, the experts agreed. Not over the phone, via email or blasted out on Twitter.

“We pick up a lot more information when someone is in front of us,” said Hedges. “You can see body language, feel the energy in the room and react better. It’s a sign of courtesy to let someone go face to face.

She added that it’s best to have the direct manager be the one delivering the news. “If management is having a talk with you, that is a level of intimacy and personal care,” she said. “If you are kicked over to HR to someone you don’t interact with, that sets a different tone.”

Experts also recommended having another person in the room, preferably from human resources, that can serve both as a witness or to help with any unusual reactions or questions.

Be clear and concise

Now’s not the time to wing it. What you say and how you break the news is important when letting an employee go.

Make sure you know exactly why you’re firing a worker, have specific examples and bring the proper documentation. That includes copies of performance reports, any write-ups and applicable financial forms like unemployment insurance and health insurance and 401(k) options.

Be firm and clear in the delivery of the termination and the path forward. “There is no room or need to get into a protracted discussion,” said Ryan. “It is what it is, there is no productive discussion that can take place after.”

Be prepared for emotion, but keep yours in check

Some workers take the news in stride. Others might go through a range of emotions: shock, grief and sometimes anger.

“Show empathy,” said Ryan, but be careful about any physical contact.

Harvey advised against using any harsh words or mean emotions during the termination. “You may be upset that they didn’t perform at the point you hoped, but it doesn’t do you any good. Just say, ‘This is it, we made this decision and we wish you well on your way.'”

Give them a soft landing

For workers who are being let go for non-performance issues, help make the transition as seamless as possible, Hedges recommended.

She said some companies offer employees a long lead time to give them a chance to find a new job, or offer some consulting work for the company to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

Be honest with employees

If there is a big round of layoffs, don’t leave employees in the dark. And if word starts spreading about people losing their jobs, move swiftly.

“That kind of rumor mill can be detrimental to those involved, especially if your name is being circulated as on the chopping block,’ said Ryan.

Try to make the cuts all at once, Hedges advised.

“Go deep the first time. It’s better to let more people go at once then to do it over three stages. It prolongs the pain. The worst thing a manger can do when answering whether more layoffs are coming is to say, ‘I don’t know, we will have to see.'”

Once the cuts have been made, be transparent and offer a sense of security to remaining workers.

“If the rest of company doesn’t know what’s going on and the only way to retrieve information is back channel rumors, that crates havoc,” said Hedges.

Terminating a worker can be a complicated process. Here are some steps to firing an employee — the legal way.

By: Sean Peek, Contributor

Firing an employee is a complicated but inevitable task that every employer will eventually face. If you find that you need to let a worker go, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible so you can avoid any legal complications along the way.

Here are the legal steps you’ll need to take to fire an employee.

Employer’s rights

In most states, employees are hired on an “at-will” basis, meaning employers have the right to fire any employee, at any time, for any (or no) reason at all. However, if someone is employed under contract, their employer will have to follow its explicit terms when considering termination.

Some contracts are highly specific, listing reasons for termination verbatim, while others are more broad, simply stipulating that there must be a “cause” for termination. These causes often vary, from poor performance or insubordination to elimination of position.

Exceptions to at-will terminations

There are a few important exceptions to terminating an at-will employee:

  • Just cause. Telling your employees they’d only be fired for a “just cause” essentially establishes guidelines for future terminations. This not only implies there is a contract in place, but also puts you at risk for a lawsuit should you fire someone for a reason that’s not in accordance with your own rules.
  • Discrimination. Even though at-will workers can be terminated for any reason, this does not excuse discriminatory actions. It’s federally illegal to fire workers for their age, race, religion, sex, national origin or disability (so long as it doesn’t interfere with their job performance). Be sure to also check with your state’s regulations to ensure compliance.
  • Public policy. It is considered wrongful termination to fire someone in violation of public policy. If an employee’s actions are protected by a statute or constitutional right, even if you disagree with their activity or it’s at the expense of your company, you cannot terminate the individual on this basis.

Firing an employee is a complicated but inevitable task that every employer will eventually face.

Five legal steps to fire an employee

If you’re ready to fire an employee, here are some steps to guide you through the process:

  1. Review your employee handbook and its firing policies. Every employer should have a formal employee handbook that details disciplinary policies, including potential reasons for termination. All employees should receive a copy during their onboarding period, and you should have a written confirmation of receipt. Before you begin the process of firing someone, review your handbook to ensure that policies are, in fact, clearly spelled out, and hold yourself accountable to enforcing all consequences outlined in the handbook.
  2. Document violations. If an employee violates company policy, document it in writing and ensure it is acknowledged by the worker. Create a performance improvement plan and give the employee the opportunity to rectify their errors. Store any documentation in their personnel file for future reference so you can support your claims when it comes time to terminate the employee.
  3. Investigate grounds for termination. If you feel you’re ready to fire someone, investigate the situation and collect interviews, documents and evidence associated with your case. The more evidence you have, the stronger your case for firing that employee will be.
  4. Be brief and factual (but don’t sugarcoat it). Once you have everything organized, sit down with the employee and explain—carefully—why you’re choosing to let them go. Keep the discussion brief and clear. If you sugarcoat your reasoning, you’re potentially misleading the employee, which could come back to bite you down the line.
  5. Fulfill all legal requirements. Employers must fulfill certain legal obligations and provide a terminated employee with information about their benefits, including COBRA, their last paycheck, unemployment options and transportability of other insurance. You might be tempted to deny unemployment benefits, but if you proceed, be prepared to fight claims of discrimination or wrongful termination.

Firing an employee is stressful enough and the last thing you need is a disgruntled worker taking you to court. With these best practices, you’re more likely to steer clear of legal trouble. However, it is always recommended to seek legal counsel before making any firing decisions to ensure that you have sufficient cause and documentation for a legally solid termination.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

To stay on top of all the news impacting your small business, go here for all of our latest small business news and updates.

It’s never easy to terminate an employee, but most entrepreneurs have to face the task at one time or another.

When you terminate an employee, you want to avoid repercussions such as being pursued for wrongful dismissal, and being forced to rehire the employee or pay damages.

“Cases that end up being disputed are usually where a problem has not been addressed and there is no back-up documentation,” says Geneviève Desmarais, BDC’s Assistant Vice-President of Legal Affairs. “Without proper documentation to support a decision to terminate, it becomes a question of ‘he said, she said’ and the burden lies on the employer to demonstrate the termination was made for a just and sufficient cause and was properly conducted.”

You can help ensure a smooth termination of employment by following these steps.

1. Let employees know where they stand

An employee shouldn’t be surprised that he or she is being fired. Whether the employee is not performing up to standard or does not work well within their team, you need to be clear about problems as they occur.

Take notes so you can provide precise details about issues such as customer complaints, inappropriate behaviour during meetings, missed deadlines or failure to meet sales targets. Meet with the employee and give examples of problems regarding performance or behaviour.

Keep your notes in the employee’s file.

2. Develop a plan and timeline for improvement

Desmarais recommends that, whenever possible, you develop an improvement plan with the employee, and be clear about when you expect to see changes. Set realistic goals that are measurable.

“After every discussion of this type with an employee, follow up with a written recap of the conversation in an email or on paper,” Desmarais says. “State what is expected of the employee and when. Be encouraging. State you are confident the employee will make the necessary improvements, but also be clear on the possible consequences if the employee fails to improve.”

3. Prepare documentation

If the employee fails to improve and will be terminated, have your documentation ready. You need to prepare a written notice of termination, and determine if a severance is necessary.

Calculate the proper severance based on the total compensation the employee earned upon termination. If you have an employment contract, it is a good idea to verify if a termination clause settles the question of severance.

“The severance depends on many criteria including the circumstances surrounding the hiring and firing, the employee’s age and experience, the position held and length of service with the organization,” Desmarais says. “The severance can never be less than the minimum provided by employment legislation. It’s always preferable to check with a lawyer or a human resources specialist.”

4. Hold a face-to-face meeting

“Never terminate an employee over the phone or by email,” she says. Instead, be brief and to the point in a face-to-face meeting.

Depending on the situation, you may want to have a witness. But don’t drag the employee’s colleagues into it. Choose a neutral party, such as the person responsible for human resources.

5. Allow the employee to leave with dignity

After the firing has taken place, depending on the situation, the employee may be asked to stop work right away or be required to work a termination notice period.

You should make sure a fired employee is allowed to leave with dignity. For example, there is usually no reason to prevent a departing employee from personally packing up his or her belongings and saying goodbye to coworkers. And there is certainly no need, under normal circumstances, to have someone escorted to the door by a security guard or supervisor.

Additionally, if you have presented the employee with a severance offer, he or she should be given time to review the information you have provided. “You shouldn’t expect the person to respond right away, but should give them at least a few days to review the details, consult their advisors, and get back to you,” Desmarais says.

6. Get off to a good start for an easier end

Desmarais recommends that entrepreneurs have workers sign an employment contract when they’re hired. This should outline working conditions and severance to be paid in case of termination.

“An employment contract makes things clear from the start and helps you avoid problems down the road. Consult a human resources specialist or a lawyer to make sure your contract respects applicable legislation and is valid.”

How to fire an employee

Dishonesty is one of the more surefire causes for dismissal as Sybel Goruk learned when suing the Barrie Chamber of Commerce.

How to fire an employee for ’cause’ — and that includes if they refuse to come back to the office Back to video

Goruk was employed for 17 years as its executive director with no prior disciplinary record. In 2014, an investigation into her conduct revealed a series of individual incidents of misfeasance and poor judgment.

The Court found that Goruk was a fiduciary — a senior position of trust. Consequently, she owed the Chamber duties of loyalty, honesty and good faith. The court held that Goruk’s acts of misconduct were “not major” so that separately, none of the acts supported termination for cause, but that their cumulative impact did. She altered bank documents, took cash payouts for unused vacation time, and granted herself an unauthorized pay raise.

Advertisement 3

Article content

The absence of integrity and the exercise of poor judgment justified, in the court’s view, Goruk’s immediate termination.

All of the issues came to a head around the same time and were so serious that the court considered it unnecessary for the Chamber to provide warnings or implement a stepped approach to discipline.

This case may be an exception as to how to fire an employee for just cause where generally progressive warnings are required.

Readers of the column know that the standard for dismissal for cause is very high. The employer has to prove that the employee engaged in wilful misconduct that fundamentally repudiated the entire employment agreement.

A key element of this assessment is the concept of proportionality. In view of the nature and extent of the misconduct, was dismissal proportionate?

Advertisement 4

Article content

Typically, other than for the most egregious misconduct, employers must show that they gave the employee several warnings and an opportunity to correct their behaviour. In other situations, a ladder approach, with escalating forms of discipline in response to repeated serious misconduct, is appropriate.

One scenario where the question of just cause will likely be considered in the near future is employers mandating that employees return to the office from their remote workplaces.

Since the beginning of pandemic, many employees have had to work from home to comply with public health measures. But in the last few months, the majority of measures are being lifted across the country.

More On This Topic

How to fire an employee

How much severance are you entitled to when you are fired? Here’s why nobody can give you an accurate number

How to fire an employee

Howard Levitt: The case of a ‘lifer’ fired in the pandemic is a lesson on how to do this better

How to fire an employee

Howard Levitt: Yes, you can sue someone for negligence if they pass COVID on to you

Advertisement 5

Article content

What if an employee has gotten the work-from-home itch, can an employer terminate an employee for cause if they won’t return to the office?

The answer: It depends.

Employers are entitled to compel their employees to return to the office unless they worked from home before the pandemic or have been promised the permanent right to work from home. If employees refuse to return to the office, it is likely a repudiation of their contract, allowing the employer to terminate them for cause without compensation of any kind.

But employers should beware. With COVID exit steps on the horizon, if employers don’t already have a plan requiring their employees to come back the office, employees who are working remotely will be able to eventually take the position that remote work has become a term of their employment. Ordering them back will then be a constructive dismissal.

Advertisement 6

Article content

The longer employers wait to recall, the greater this risk.

Got a question about employment law during COVID-19? Write to Howard at [email protected]

Howard Levitt is senior partner of Levitt Sheikh, employment and labour lawyers with offices in Toronto and Hamilton. He practices employment law in eight provinces. He is the author of six books including the Law of Dismissal in Canada. Lyndsay Butlin is a lawyer in the Hamilton office of Levitt Sheikh.

If you like this story sign up for FP Work Newsletter.

Dismissal is when you end an employee’s contract. When dismissing staff, you must do it fairly.

There are different types of dismissal:

  • fair dismissal
  • unfair dismissal
  • constructive dismissal
  • wrongful dismissal

Fair and unfair dismissal

A dismissal is fair or unfair depending on:

  • your reason for it
  • how you act during the dismissal process

Constructive dismissal

This is when an employee resigns because you’ve breached their employment contract. This could be a single serious event or a series of less serious events.

An employee could claim constructive dismissal if you:

  • cut their wages without agreement
  • unlawfully demote them
  • allow them to be harassed, bullied or discriminated against
  • unfairly increase their workload
  • change the location of their workplace at short notice
  • make them work in dangerous conditions

A constructive dismissal is not necessarily unfair – but it would be difficult for you to show that a breach of contract was fair.

A constructive dismissal might lead to a claim for wrongful dismissal.

Wrongful dismissal

This is where you break the terms of an employee’s contract in the dismissal process, for example dismissing someone without giving them proper notice.

Wrongful dismissal is not the same as unfair dismissal.

If an employee thinks you’ve dismissed them unfairly, constructively or wrongfully, they might take you to an employment tribunal.

How to fire an employee

We’re in a new world of work! If there’s anything this time has taught us, it’s that remote-first, hybrid, or distributed workforces are here to stay. And while the “ work-from-anywhere ” model has its share of benefits for both you and your employees, there will still come a time when you realize someone isn’t a good fit for your team, and vice versa.

It’s important to make sure you’re ready to handle all stages of the employee lifecycle at a distance, from remote hiring to the F word: firing. And that’s why I’m here. I’ve been working on people teams with remote-first workforces since before the pandemic, and there are a couple of things that I’ve learned throughout my experience that might help you navigate these tricky waters a little more easily.

As you know, employee terminations and mutual separations of any kind are complicated, so we’ll separate this into a couple of sections.

How to avoid unnecessary remote employee terminations

No one wants to fire a team member, and it should be a long road before you get there. In addition to the discomfort terminations cause on both sides, lots of turnover can be really expensive for your business. It’s in your best interest—for both company culture and your bottom line—to put some employee retention strategies in place sooner rather than later.

Here are three ways you can manage remote employees and stop some personnel issues before they start:

1. Keep communications clear from day one

When working as a remote employee, it can be really difficult to know if you’re doing the right thing. It’s incredibly important to the employee experience to be able to gauge the culture, or how things get done, whether within the team or cross-functionally.

Throughout the interview process, you have expectations of what the individual in the role will do. It’s important to keep those top-of-mind with the individual in a way that it continues to evolve as the individual and the role develop and change.

Make sure to keep remote team members in the loop to the same degree as any on-site employees so everyone feels included. One way to improve communication is to create an online workspace for all employees to gather for file sharing , team messaging , and even face-to-face collaboration via video conferencing .

2. Honor employee contributions regularly

An important thing to remember: employees, upon signing their contract, made a sacrifice to work with your company. It’s important to honor that, even when discovering later down the line that the opportunity is not the best fit on either side.

A great way to do this is to bake employee recognition into your company’s DNA. Make time for it during regular staff meetings as well as quarterly and annual updates. Find ways for team members to uplift one another’s hard work, but it’s crucial that appreciation comes from leadership, too.

3. Include criteria for remote work in performance reviews

The nature of work has changed dramatically in recent years, so why shouldn’t performance reviews ?

Keep your remote team members in mind as you plan updates to your performance rubrics and reviews. Include items and language that apply specifically to their unique situation so they feel seen and validated, as well as properly evaluated. It also might be more important than ever to include a level of self-evaluation in the review process, since remote work is much more autonomous.

An important note: don’t spring new evaluation criteria on your teams at the last minute. Be sure to communicate any changes well in advance of review time—preferably at the beginning of the year—so folks will understand how expectations have shifted.

✍️ Need help building better reviews? ✍️

We made you a template that’s competency based and includes specific criteria for remote team members!

After you have taken all of the preliminary steps, considered all of the potential ramifications, legal and otherwise, and made the difficult decision to let someone go, stick to it. Don’t torture yourself with second thoughts. Don’t prolong the firing.

Only the worker’s direct supervisors, and any witnesses that will be present at the termination meeting, should be told about the termination decision in advance. An advance leak of a firing can only worsen the situation.

In years past, late Friday afternoon was considered the optimum time to let someone go. Today, earlier in the day, or even the week is deemed appropriate. Some companies that take this approach offer the employee the option of either remaining for the rest of the day or week or leaving immediately with pay for the workday.

When you are ready to proceed with the termination, call the employee into the office. Approach her with, “I have something to discuss with you.”

After the employee and any other managerial personnel or witnesses have gathered in your office, get to the point quickly. Briefly explain to the employee that she is being fired. Use the words “we are going to have to let you go.”

Summarize the main reasons for the termination and recap the warnings that have been issued and the opportunities extended to improve her performance record.

Give the person a check for monies due. If you are offering severance pay, detail the severance offer and present the employee with the forfeiture document to be signed if the severance is to be paid. Explain any continued work options. Offer to let the employee clean out her office or desk now, or have you mail any personal belongings to her later. If the employee elects to have you mail her belongings, have two people oversee the cleaning process to make sure that all of the employee’s personal possessions are mailed.

Show appropriate sympathy for the employee, but not empathy. Do not waver and change your mind. Do not overstate any aspect of the employee’s performance.

Answer any questions the terminated employee may have, even if she interrupts you. A termination is extremely emotional. Don’t be surprised if the employee doesn’t hear the basic message or doesn’t understand the details of her firing. You may have to restate all or part of the termination.

As long as the employee doesn’t lose control, extend her every reasonable courtesy. Certainly give the person an opportunity to say good-bye to coworkers. She will only call these people on the phone later anyway.

If the employee does lose control and becomes seriously verbally abusive, ask her to vacate the building. Don’t get upset. Remember, no matter what you think of the employee, that person is being terminated. She is leaving, not you.

Even if you or someone else in the office can overpower a suddenly violent discharged employee, the risk of a lawsuit is huge. The one time I did call the police, the employee fled the building before they arrived. But the (Boston) police told me its policy was not to refuse cancellations on this type of call because all too often the discharged employee may return with a weapon. In this case, the employee did return with his dog—but the dog was about the size of a miniature poodle, with about the same level of ferociousness.

The odds of you or another employee being endangered during a firing is slim, but you do need to be prepared for the unexpected.

Hands down, the hardest part of my job is letting an employee go. Even the word “fire” makes people cringe and lower their eyes. But as any business leader knows, sometimes, the right thing to do for the company is to dismiss an employee. It is, after all, pretty common. Forty percent of Americans have lost a job, according to a recent Harris poll. So how can you make the dreaded process go smoothly, both for the employee and the person doing the firing? By doing it respectfully.

/>PeopleImages | Getty Images

A study of nearly 20,000 employees around the world from Harvard Business Review and Tony Schwartz found that being treated with respect was the most critical thing they wanted from their employer. They ranked it higher than recognition and appreciation, providing useful feedback or opportunities for learning, growth and development.

This respect should extend to when things aren’t working out. Here are my four strategies for terminating a contract with compassion and integrity.

1. Make sure you offer opportunities for improvement first

At my company, Hint, we have two types of terminations: performance-based and attitude-based. If a staff member isn’t meeting clear criteria, we would never just let them go. We make sure their manager has an extensive conversation with that employee to let them know where they missed the mark. Together, they’ll strategize ways for the employee to succeed. That way, the employee is aware of their performance and becomes part of the solution.

We then give the employee a timeline — typically between 30 to 90 days — and schedule check-ins along the way, helping us gauge whether a staffer can continue with the company. They usually show progress, because goals are broken down into manageable milestones. A study from the University of Michigan found that 76 percent of participants who wrote down their goals and actions and provided weekly progress to a friend achieved their goals. But if the employee still hasn’t made progress by the end of the trial period, it’s time for that hard conversation.

We’re especially careful when an employee appears to have a negative attitude or exhibits toxic behavior. Recent research from Harvard Business Review shows that one bad employee can corrupt a whole team. The study looked at how employees act when they are around someone who misbehaves. It found that 37 percent of those studied were more likely to do something dishonest if they worked with someone with a history of bad behavior.

If this happens, we have a transparent but kind conversation with the sour-attitude employee. We may tell them, “When you say this, your attitude impacts the organization this way.” Or we may ask, “How can we teach you to start a phrase differently so that it’s better received?”

2. Consider all the alternatives and CYA

Before we let someone go, we make sure they wouldn’t be happier elsewhere in the company. Sometimes, an employee doesn’t realize they’re headed toward burnout until you have an honest conversation about their output. I often suggest moving someone laterally or to another department when they show signs of dissatisfaction. Maybe they’ve got a great skillset, but they’ve been in sales for many years, and an opportunity in marketing would be a breath of fresh air. Or perhaps they’re in logistics and would enjoy a career pivot.

No matter the course of action, it’s essential for managers to document everything to stay compliant with termination laws and to show the employee why things aren’t working out. Empower your managers to take detailed notes on a problem employee’s performance or attitude so that everything is in writing. Saying someone’s “not a good fit” can open you up to legal risk, so focus on issues with performance or behavior.

3. Work with HR to ensure that termination is handled correctly

My company has recently doubled in size. That means I don’t personally fire anyone anymore; that’s in the jurisdiction of our Director of People. I work closely with her so that I’m involved in the process, and I suggest you do the same at your startup. Whether it’s an entry-level hire or someone more senior, a leader needs to be aware of anyone who isn’t pulling their weight on the team and understand why.

If you decide to fire the employee, develop a termination plan with HR to ensure you’re following the law and your company’s procedures. You might have an HR rep present at any meeting where you discuss an employee’s future at the company. Or you might hire an outside party for an independent review or show your best practices.

4. Be as transparent as possible with the employee

When you’ve exhausted your options and it’s time to let an employee go, do it swiftly. Be as clear and detailed as possible. Explain logistics like how the final paycheck will be handled, any severance pay and how company property should be returned. Make sure you’re not waffling or giving them the impression that you might change your mind. Transparency is critical. Employee distrust is pervasive in the U.S. workforce, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey. Its research found that nearly one in four workers don’t trust their employer, and only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them.

Be prepared to answer any questions during the termination meeting, and remember to show empathy. Consider scheduling a termination at the end of the workday, where you may even walk the person out when it’s closing time. At Hint, we help bridge the gap between an employee’s last day and their next career move. We discuss what a transition will look like and help as much as possible. The support may include introductions to different firms, providing a reference and keeping the lines of communication open after their last day. Not all firings will be amicable, but they needn’t entail bridges burned.

Entrepreneur Editors’ Picks

3 Strategies That Helped Me Develop 13 Streams of Income

Ken Burns: ‘Mark Zuckerberg Should Be in Jail’

How to Start and Grow a Business: A Digital Guide for Young Entrepreneurs

8 Body Language Cues That Lead to Better Business Connections

There’s No Better Time to Start a Passive Income Business Than Now

All Your Burning Tax-Filing Questions, Answered

Bill Gates Says Lazy People Make the Best Employees. But Is Your Laziness Actually Masking a Deeper Issue?

How to fire an employee

Still, in some cases, without terminating an unproductive person’s employment or making necessary cuts, we cannot continue to keep our business productive and the workplace healthy.

Here are several essential tips that are able to make this uncomfortable process smoother and help you to fire an employee gracefully.

1. Be clear and concise

When it’s time to let an employee go, you should be clear and concise. It’s crucial what you say and how you decide to break the news. Terminating a person’s work, you should know exactly why you are doing this.

Prepare specific examples and the proper documentation, which include performance reports and different applicable financial forms like unemployment insurance or health insurance .

You need to be firm and clear while firing in order to make an employee sure that there is no room for further discussions. Besides, if you deliver the news on termination in a very bush and gentle way, the employee may just not understand what you mean.

At the same time, make it short. You just need to tell the employee when they are expected to leave the office and explain how much severance pay and which other benefits you may provide. Explain the general reason for firing in short but don’t go into detail. Remember that you don’t want to start an argument with the dismissed employee, listening to their excuses and defense. In case of complications, say, “I am sorry, but I have already made up my mind.”

2. Don’t surprise the employee

Indeed, firing unproductive workers with poor performance shouldn’t become a surprise for them (or to anyone else). Instead, you have to hold regular meetings and employee reviews in order to demonstrate the areas which need improvement and give expert recommendations. Besides, such meetings don’t have to be extremely formal; they just have to make unproductive employees appraise their work and refocus on its improvement.

Although legally, you may be able to fire the employee at any time, and for any legal reason, it’s definitely not a good way to operate the business. Terminating workers’ employment for their dissatisfying performance with no feedback would not do a great business practice.

Moreover, if the firing is due to a specific business model change or necessary cuts, you should give the affected employee as much care and attention as possible.

Fire early in the week if you are sure that things cannot change for the better. At the same time, never fire the employee on a Friday, since they can overthink about their dismissal during the weekend and come to work the next Monday, ready for a dispute, a fight, or something worse.

3. Do it in person

Dismissing an employee is going to be uncomfortable in any way. However, you should do it face to face, not over the phone or via email. The fact is that non-verbal language plays a too critical role in communication to be ignored. The employees will pick up a lot more information if there is someone in front of them. Thus, they will see your body language, feel the energy during the conversation, and react reasonably. Also, firing someone in person is a sign of courtesy from your side.

Moreover, the person delivering the news should be a direct manager of the employee. It demonstrates personal care and a certain level of intimacy. Indeed, if employees are dismissed simply by HR or even someone they have never interacted with, it sets a completely different tone.

Besides, experts recommend having another person in the room during the meeting with the dismissed employee. For example, you may invite someone from the Human Resources department. Firstly, this person would serve as a witness and would be able to confirm you acted legally and ethically in case the complications from the side of the employee arise. Secondly, the HR representative can help a dismissed employee with any further questions regarding the termination of work.

4. Don’t humiliate the employee

While firing the employee, always treat them with dignity. Terminating someone’s work in front of the audience is certainly a bad idea. By doing this, you would not only humiliate the dismissed employee but also risk draining the morale out of the other workers.

Instead, always fire an employee in private behind closed doors. Deliver the news only after your other employees leave. Take into consideration that the dismissed employee wouldn’t be happy to leave the office in front of his or her colleagues.

5. Be prepared for emotions and offer a soft landing, if possible

Each dismissed employee would take such unpleasant news in a different way. Some would stay calm and quiet while others might demonstrate a wide range of emotions: from shock to anger. It is natural, and you have to show empathy. However, at the same time, be careful about any physical contact.

Moreover, don’t use harsh or mean phrases during the process of firing someone. Keep in mind that you want to upset neither an employee nor yourself. Instead, emphasize that you have made this decision for sure and wish the dismissed employee luck in further achievements.

Sometimes, you have to terminate a person’s employment due to necessary cuts in order to keep your business productive and the workplace healthy in the conditions of the financial crisis within the company. Therefore, if you are firing an employee for non-performance issues, make sure that this transition is seamless. For instance, give the employee a month or two to find a new job, offer a consultation with HR, or recommend some sources of job search.

6. Always be honest to other employees

Never leave your employees in the dark if something is happening inside the company. You definitely don’t want the gossips about workers starting losing their jobs to spread. That kind of rumor may bring damage both to the worried employees and your reputation within the company. Therefore, it’s better to make all the necessary cuts at once. Dismiss more people at once instead of keeping doing it over three or five stages.

Remember that your employees want to feel safe and comfortable. Asking whether they should expect further layoffs, they don’t want to hear their manager saying, “I don’t know yet, we’ll see.” Thus, when you have made all the necessary cuts within your organization, offer a sense of security to remaining employees, and stay honest and transparent.

What is more, it’s essential to clearly communicate to employees that one of their colleagues is dismissed and why. You have to notify them of important changes in workload or present new opportunities available. However, don’t go into detail in order not to make yourself a center of gossips. Always remember to stay professional during the process of firing someone.


Indeed, no one likes to fire people. However, being an employer involves having to let employees go. Take several practical and emotional considerations into account while terminating an unproductive person’s work. Always be clear with the dismissed employee and don’t surprise or humiliate them. Fire someone in person. Be prepared for emotions and offer a soft landing, if possible. Finally, be honest to the remaining employees. These essential six tips would make delivering the news kinder.