People Operations
How to Fire an Employee
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How to Fire an Employee

May 18, 2019
Laying off an employee

Firing an employee is arguably the worst part of being a manager. Having to notify an employee that they’re being terminated can be almost as painful as getting fired yourself. But, procrastinating won’t resolve anything. Eventually, you’re going to have to do it, so you’ll want to do it as seamlessly and painlessly as possible. At worst, firing someone can lead to lawsuits and bridges that are forever burned. At best, an employee will find a job that’s a better fit, and remain a connection for potential future opportunities.

Tips for the Best Ways to Fire an Employee

Do It Face-To-Face

You heard it. No matter how strong the temptation is to take the easy way out, the only appropriate way to let an employee go is with a face-to-face meeting. No emailing, no Skype or Slack message, no making your assistant do it.

Besides being the widely accepted protocol for laying off employees, firing someone in person helps avoid further conflict. So much nuance and tone gets lost in written communication that can cause those on the receiving end to misconstrue things and blow up. As we’ve all probably experienced first hand, people tend to hold back a lot less when they’re communicating through a computer. By notifying the unlucky employee in person, things are bound to go over more smoothly.

Do It Privately

This should go without saying, but firing should always happen in private, out of earshot of other employees. Getting fired is humiliating as it is, no one needs an audience of their peers to add insult to injury. Plus, employees don’t disappear once they leave your company. They’ll carry their impressions of you and your company with them to their next job and when speaking with other contacts. You’ll want to do everything possible to leave things on a positive note.

Be Clear

This is one situation in which you definitely don’t want to beat around the bush. Tell the employee that you’re terminating them permanently, effective immediately. Make sure you convey that the decision is final.

It Shouldn’t Be a Total Surprise

Addressing your concerns about an employee shouldn’t start when you call them into your office to fire them. Not only is it bad business, it could make things difficult should they try to sue you. You want to have concrete, documented evidence on why they deserve to be fired. You should have already been communicating with the employee, addressing problems and offering suggestions for improvement in regular performance reivews. Document ways in which they’ve failed to live up to their role and give verbal and written warnings. You may even want to consider giving one last performance review before you fire them, to ensure there’s plenty of documentation should an unlawful termination suit end up on your desk.

Review Their Contract Beforehand

If an employee signed a contract when they were first hired, there may be a limited number of reasons you can legally terminate their employment. Double check before you initiate a layoff. It’s a good idea to have your HR department  look over their documents beforehand.

Be Prepared to Tell Them Why

Assume every person you ever fire is going to ask you why. Have a concise, gentle yet articulate answer prepared. You don’t want to be unnecessarily cruel to the employee, but at the same time, you need to convey the idea that there are solid reasons that they deserve to be fired.  

Don’t Sugarcoat It

It is important to be firm with employees and let them know that there’s nothing they can do to change your mind. Being too lenient will only give them false hope.

Have an HR Rep as a Witness

Having a witness can help should the soon-to-be former employee decide to file a lawsuit. They’ll also help back you up, and can provide logistical and legal support like providing information on receiving a last paycheck or returning company property.

Wish Them Well

They may not have succeeded in the role they were hired for, but they’re still people, and ones that will likely continue in your line of work. Be kind to the person you’re firing out of consideration, but also because it could benefit you in the future. The person you fire could end up being someone you hope to be hired by one day. Maintaining connections never hurts, so do the employee and yourself a favor and wish them luck in their future endeavors.

Inform Their Coworkers

Once the employee is let go, you’ll have to take care of logistics. They’ll likely inform their team members, but you should cover your bases so employees can shift their workloads and ensure as little disruption as possible to the workflow.

Allow Them to Pick Up Belongings at a Later Date

Getting fired is humiliating as it is. No need to subject your former employee to the walk of shame through the office carrying the box of their belongings. It’s common courtesy to allow them to pick-up their things after hours, or even suggest that they be sent to their home. Don’t require them to finish out the day. They’re likely humiliated enough and deserve the dignity of reflecting in peace.

If you have major concerns about this person and worry that they may try to destroy evidence of wrongdoings or become violent, accompany them to their desk so they may collect their keys (and other immediately necessary belongings) and tell them you’ll send them the rest. Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to have security on standby if there’s a chance they could get physical.

Eliminate Their Access

Remember to keep office security a priority. You’ll want to collect their keys, have them hand in their laptop, and change any passwords that gave them access to confidential information or software.

Consider the Time of Day

It is often best to notify an employee of their termination at the end of the day. That way they can avoid the drama of leaving work mid-day, and return to their desk facing an emptier office.

  1. Do It Face To Face
  2. Do It Privately
  3. Be Clear
  4. It Shouldn’t Be A Total Surprise
  5. Review Their Contract Beforehand
  6. Be Prepared to Tell Them Why
  7. Don’t Sugarcoat It
  8. Have An HR Rep As A Witness
  9. Wish Them Well
  10. Inform Their Coworkers
  11. Allow Them To Pick-up Belongings At A Later Date

Written by:

Gema Sundstrom
Office Manager at Kisi