ABC’s of Hiring #27 – How to Fire an Employee the Right Way

How to fire an employee the right way

The prospect of telling someone they’re fired can be daunting and, while unpleasant, it is a necessary task all managers invariably have to tackle. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling knowing how this simple conversation affects a person’s career, self-esteem and livelihood. It also affects everyone else on your team. It usually changes work assignments and makes people wonder about both your judgment as a manager and their own job security. Be prepared, be respectful and be direct.

Here’s how to make the best of a difficult situation:

Be prepared

Work with Human Resources to ensure you have treated the person fairly and that the decision to terminate their employment is consistent with how others in your organization have been treated. Before making your decision, follow all progressive discipline, coaching, counseling and remedial training appropriate to the performance issue at hand. Comply with all applicable laws. Be certain and then steadfast. You must be prepared to defend your decision.


The manager should remember that one basic message must be delivered: “We are terminating your employment effective today.”


Conduct the meeting in a private, neutral area, such as a conference room.


The employee’s immediate supervisor should conduct the exit interview and deliver the message.


Sometimes having a witness in the room is appropriate, dependent on the potential volatility or litigious nature of the employee. A witness, while making things even more awkward, eliminates the risk of the employee claiming you said things you did not. When the meeting is over, have the witness — usually an HR manager — escort the employee out the door. Their personal items will be available in HR at a later date. Avoid access to computer systems and coworkers. Do not let them leave with any company property. The bottom line is that you have to protect the company from any downside resulting from the termination.


Be direct and limit any conversation to no more than 30 minutes. Schedule the conversation for late in the workday so that the person can go home and not have to face other employees.


The manager’s main responsibilities are to communicate the fact of the termination, the conditions of departure and any additional instructions, such as how to obtain severance pay and benefit information. Announce the termination decision in the first few minutes of the session. Provide a brief reason for the action that is consistent with previous discussions. This should not come as a surprise. Don’t feel that you have to justify your decision. Simply state the reasons and leave it at that. No matter what you say, the employee is likely to disagree with your decision. Don’t apologize. The decision is final and not negotiable. Listen to their comments and avoid being defensive. Never argue. Make no reference to age, sex, race, religion or anything potentially discriminatory in nature. The less you say, the more dignity the employee retains. Wrap up things by saying, “Even though this did not work out, I wish you the best.”

Meet with your other subordinates to announce your decision afterward

The firing should not come as a total surprise. Explain the process, the reasoning and the implications for them. Be sensitive to their emotions and help them see the logic behind your decision. Remember, they will judge you by how this situation was contrived and handled.

Final thoughts

Firing an employee can be a necessary evil. But, you can make the experience more palatable by using an effective, supportive approach. The actions you take really do matter to the employee who is being fired and to the coworkers who will learn – quickly – that the employee is gone.

In this era of social media and electronic communication, your entire workforce may know within a half hour – or sooner. And, because you keep employee matters confidential, the employee will most likely tell any story that makes him or her look good. Answer any questions or challenges truthfully and directly, bearing in mind the employee’s right to confidentiality. Expect a period of time during which successful employees look to you for reassurance about their own jobs.


The firing decision and how well it is handled is an important part of your company culture. Doing it right reflects well on management and is an integral part of retaining the best people for your business.


Bob Harrington Associates has been in the executive search business for 20 years and can help you find the best people for your business.

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