Ending someone’s employment can be gutting for the employee, and rife with discomfort for the manager responsible for the task. While it’s unlikely the employee will walk away from the experience happy, it’s important to understand how to fire an employee so the news is delivered and received smoothly.

Conversations should be honest, but not confrontational.


    For reasons both corporate and compassionate, you’ll want the months and weeks leading up to an employee’s termination to be filled with regular check-ins, and documentation of how the employee is or is not living up to expectations. Conversations should be honest, but not confrontational, and allow for the employee to discuss difficulties they might be having. “It looks to me that you are having a difficult time accomplishing this task,” is one way to begin an early dialogue. It allows your employee to agree or disagree, and bring up conflicts that have arisen.


    On the one hand, it might make sense to let the work week come to an end before letting someone go. In reality, calling someone to your office at 4 p.m. on a Friday is a recipe for a lot of angst. Put yourself in their shoes: They just did a full week of work and are now being sent home for the weekend with nowhere to go come Monday. Moreover, there’s the whole weekend to stew. A situation made all the worse if the (former) employee has questions, and can’t reach out until at least Monday. The better days: Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s not a Monday-morning shocker and the person hasn’t put in even half a week’s work.


    People can be really litigious, and firing can turn a loyal employee into a bitter one very quickly. If at all possible, have a witness in the room with you when the news is delivered. If you have a Human Resources department to draw from, that’s best. If not, choose someone closest to your equal from a management perspective. This isn’t about creating a situation where the employee feels outnumbered, it’s merely about having another set of ears to bear witness to the exchange.


    By the time you’ve decided to fire someone, the case for doing so should be crystal clear: You’ve reviewed all hiring documents, company policies, employee reviews, and your decision is made and firm. Have the details on a checklist for your own reference. When you break the news, the last thing you want it to turn into is a debate. The conversation should be polite, but short. If the employee has questions, remind them that your decision is final, all the points have been raised previously during performance reviews, and if questions linger, please put them in writing. This closes the door to any drama, and ensures that if and when the questions come, the answers are precise and to the point and a reflection of what’s been noted in prior meetings and reviews.


    If you have a compensation package to offer, do so at the end so that there is something positive to end on. Let the person know they were valued and appreciated while you worked together. Sending your employee off with words of encouragement and warmth will be appreciated — if not in the (difficult) moment, later down the road.

    The same goes for talking to the employee’s former co-workers. They might have lost a friend in the process, and they definitely lost someone involved with their workflow. Remind them that the loss is going to be felt, but you’re going to help make the transition time as seamless as possible.

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