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How to Terminate an Employee

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Letting an employee go is a difficult situation most managers want to avoid, but with the right preparation and professionalism, you can get through this difficult task with your dignity (and your employee’s) intact.

Firing Best Practices

Have two company representatives in the meeting.  Another manager or HR representative should always be present, especially if terminating a potentially hostile employee or one who might twist your words or make false accusations. It is also best to include a balance of genders.

The best place to terminate is a private office or meeting room close to an exit — there is nothing worse than an upset employee having to traipse through a workplace to find his way out.

Out of respect for and fairness to the employee, terminate as early in the workweek and day as possible. In addition, bring tissues and water as well as the phone number for an employee assistance program representative, if available.

There are logistical issues to work out, too. If you have to terminate an employee who uses a company car, how will that employee get home? Finally, have any necessary paperwork or documents ready to avoid scrambling for them as the employee tries to leave.

What to Say and How to Say It

When the time comes, it’s best to just get down to business.  The termination discussion should be as brief as possible.  Your tone should be calm and assertive.

Ex-employees often criticize former employers for giving vague reasons for termination. Being prepared, staying calm and speaking respectfully is critical to a termination procedure.  Many employees actually know when they are not doing a good job. If the termination itself is handled well, an ex-employee is less likely to blame the employer for being fired.

Managers should know that saying too much can get them into legal hot water. Therefore, it’s important to make a prepared, written statement that can be placed in the employee’s personnel file, such as:

John, after reviewing your work performance for the last two months, we concluded that this job is not a good fit for your skills. Because of that, today is your last day. We thank you for working with us on a smooth transition. You will have time to gather your personal items, and we will assist you.

It’s important to get to the point quickly. You should let someone know the real deal within three minutes of the start of the meeting.  Don’t worry about breaking the ice. There is nothing you can do that will make the message pleasurable.

After You Drop the Bomb

Employees may have a variety of questions, including:

  • Can you give me an example of what I did wrong?
  • Will I get a reference from you?
  • Can I file for unemployment?
  • Are you going to tell other employees I am fired?
  • Do I get any severance?

The best policy overall is to avoid being backed into the specifics trap and refer any questions regarding company policy to HR.

It’s also important to remember that your delivery can help soften the blow. There is never an easy way to share hard information. You can, however, be sensitive to the employee’s need to process the data, be upset and avoid being embarrassed.

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