How to Fire an Employee: Tips for Letting Go

Two coworkers in a lengthy conversation

How To Fire Someone Professionally And What To Avoid

When you’re in an executive position, you may have to terminate employees from time to time. Knowing how to do so professionally and ethically is important. It makes the termination more efficient and ensures the employee understands why they’re being terminated. In this article, we discuss reasons for terminating an employee, how to fire someone professionally, and what to avoid during the termination.

If you fire someone, you must have a specific reason. Terminations typically occur when an employee is performing poorly at work. Ensure your reason for terminating an employee complies with federal, provincial and/or territorial laws otherwise your company could face legal challenges. Here are some common reasons for terminating an employee:

Tips for letting go of employees

While firing an employee is usually not an easy decision, there are various instances that justify it. You can fire employees due to poor performance, misleading or unethical behavior or statements, property damage, or violations of company policy.

You cannot, however, discriminate or retaliate against employees in your firing practices, nor can you fire them for their immigration status or for refusing to take lie detector tests.

Almost every business owner will fire an employee at some point, but that doesn’t make the process pleasant. It’s much worse when you fire someone and are later served with a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Technically, if your employment contracts include the provision that employment with your company is at will, you don’t need a reason to fire an employee. Under at-will employment – which is only illegal in Montana – you can fire your employees for any reason that isn’t illegal. Many reasons justify an employee termination beyond the fact that you legally can do so.

Don’t End the Meeting on a Low Note

An upset employee at her desk

When you fire an employee, the purpose of the meeting is not to demean him nor to hurt his self-esteem. In fact, everyone’s best interests are served when the employee is able to move forward with his life as quickly as possible.

So, you want to end the meeting on a positive note. If you allow fired employees to collect unemployment, tell them. (Honestly, unless the employee’s behavior was egregious, why not give them a boost into the next chapter of their lives?)

Talk about job searching and how to get started. Tell him that his contributions were valued. Suggest the type of job that might fit her skills. Use words of encouragement like, “we are confident that you will find a job that is a better fit for you.”

You don’t want to create a counseling or sympathy session, but do send the employee out the door with words of encouragement. (They’ll usually cry anyway, no matter how kind you are—so be prepared.)

Making the Best of a Difficult Situation

Firing an employee is not your most sought-after experience. But, you can make the experience more palatable by using an effective, supportive approach to a hard conversation. 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 tell any story that makes them look good—even if it makes you look bad.

You will likely be unfriended at social sites, so if you wonder how the former employee positions the termination, check quickly. Expect a period of time during which successful employees look to you for reassurance about their own jobs.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.