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How To Fire An Employee

Firing An Employee May Be The Hardest Thing You'll Have To Do, But If You Follow These Tips, You Can Get The Job Done Right.

By Steve Schumacher

The toughest thing that managers have to do is fire someone. There are many reasons for this including: no training in how to do it right, a fear of retaliation, fear of legal problems, not wanting to put families in a tough spot, and a basic desire to not hurt someone’s feelings. The reality is that firing people is about acting on your desire to have a high performing group of employees.

The best thing for you and them is to cut them loose. Everyone else is watching so you must act or run the risk of killing the motivation of others and lose your credibility as a manager. The thing I hear most often from employees when a poor performer is fired is “what took so long?”

Assuming you are dealing with an at-will employee, here are some tips that will make the job a bit easier and keep you out of legal difficulties:

  • Partner with HR.
    HR professionals are skilled at how to terminate an employee without putting the company in legal jeopardy. Consult with them early on in the process of dealing with the employee’s poor performance. They will tell you to document everything, so get used to it.
  • Be compassionate.
    Convince yourself that the reason you are firing the employee is they are a bad fit for the organization. That will help you show true compassion for the person. Yes, they may have shown laziness or been difficult, but the decision has been made to let them go and now it’s time to show compassion and let the employee preserve their dignity.
  • Be direct, short, and to the point.
    First, tell them they are being terminated “for cause.” Don’t beat around the bush. Be prepared for them to get emotional but don’t get caught up in it. Tell them when they are expected to leave the company, what their severance will be, and how you will handle requests for a reference. Have a witness with you.
  • Day of the week.
    There are many schools of thought as to what day of the week to fire someone. Some say Friday to let things calm down over the weekend. Others say do it on Monday so the employee has the week to make other job connections. My belief is that, once you’ve made the decision to fire someone, you should do it right away. It’s better to do it quickly so everyone can move on.
  • Tell other employees.
    Immediately after the termination has happened, gather other employees and tell them what’s happened. There’s no need to go into great detail. Use that meeting as an opportunity to reassign the terminated employee’s duties. Don’t use email for this announcement.
  • Remain calm and courteous.
    This is not a time to raise your voice, get angry or become argumentative. Having another person with you will help moderate the situation. I’ve seen a lot of companies that have a security guard escort the employee out the door, cardboard box in hand. This embarrasses everyone, so I don’t recommend it.
  • You will be drained.
    No matter how justified the termination is, letting someone go is an emotional challenge for the manager who has to do it. Treating the employee with compassion and dignity will allow you to look in the mirror and feel good about how you handled an emotionally difficult situation.

Keeping an employee who's not performing or causing major problems with your business, or other employees, inhibits your workplace in two ways: It allows the poor behavior to continue, and it sends signals to other employees that they can get away with similar behavior.

Firing an employee is tough, and there's no guarantee you won't be sued no matter what you do. But if it has to be done, you’ll do both yourself and your business a great disservice by putting off the inevitable.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..