How to Fire Someone

Learning how to fire someone is never fun, but it’s important to know what to do if you are faced with a situation with a poor performing employee and need to move forward with termination.

Most leaders would agree that firing an employee is the single most difficult task they are asked to do. Even when it seems like the right business choice, it’s hard to sit down with someone and tell them they no longer have a job. However, as the manager, you have to remember you need to do what’s right for the company and your other employees. If you’ve gone through the proper steps to notify the employee of the expected behaviors and performance and they still aren’t meeting your expectations, it may be time to consider terminating that employee.

Don’t Drag Your Feet

When it comes to dealing with performance or behavior issues, you shouldn’t drag your feet. Keeping an employee who isn’t performing poisons your workplace by allowing the behavior to continue, which then send signals to other employees that they can get away with similar behavior. Additionally, your other employees may become disengaged if they observe their coworker’s performance issues and perceive that you are not dealing with the issue.

Nobody will argue that firing an employee is tough, but if it has to be done, you are doing yourself and your company a disservice by putting off the inevitable. Firing someone should be the last step in a fair and transparent policy regarding how to handle employee performance issues. Even if the documentation may seem cumbersome at times, you need to ensure you follow through with tracking the entire performance documentation process.

Check your Past Feedback

Review the employee’s file to ensure you have a good track record of documenting their performance. If you’ve been giving the employee highly rated performance reviews and they’ve received raises, you’ve given them the message their performance is acceptable. They would, more than likely, be shocked if you fired them without other documents or discussions in place. Now is the time to start discussions and documenting the issues with the employee.

If you look back and you’ve documented performance or behavior issues in past performance reviews, then it’s time to take the next step and let the employee know how serious the situation is.

Document any Performance Issues

In most situations, employees should not be surprised when they are being terminated (except in the case of a layoff). If you have done your job correctly, you should have given them some kind of advanced notice of any performance issues.

More than likely your organization has a formal process for corrective action or dealing with discipline that you should follow. Most organizations have a step process, where managers can follow the steps to ensure they have given the employee the proper notice that their behavior or performance was at an unacceptable level, and the opportunity to correct their performance issue. You should provide examples to the employee of their lack of performance, and give them a time period to improve. The employee should be warned that if corrections or improvements aren’t made, termination may be the next step. Document any discussions on these types of issues.

There are situations that warrant immediate termination. This would be in situations where the performance or behavior was egregious, such as fighting or stealing, and the employee should have known without warning that their behavior was highly unacceptable.

If you are laying off an employee for reasons that aren’t related to their own performance, such as financial performance of the company or job elimination, it’s typically best to move forward with the termination without any warning.

Document Everything

In today’s litigious society protecting your company by documenting any infractions or performance problems well in advance of any action being taken. If there are any one-on-one conversations, you will want to document the conversation in a written format such as an email or a memo signed by both parties. If the discussion isn’t documented, it’s hard to prove the discussion happened.

Be sure to follow your company’s policy with regards to discipline, and the appropriate documentation to move forward.

Run it by a Jury First

Now that you feel your documentation is in order and you are ready to move forward with termination, imagine yourself defending your action in front of a jury. Imagine the documents you’ve prepared are blown up to poster size and your words will be scrutinized. Assume you are on the witness stand and you need to prove the employee was terminated for just cause and you have treated this employee fairly.

Think through if anything has been missed. If you were being drilled by a judge or attorney, make sure there is nothing to imply the employee was terminated for anything other than the performance concerns.

Make HR your Ally

Human Resources should be aware of and involved in any termination decision. Their involvement is important as they can ensure you are following the company’s policies, you are being consistent with the treatment of other employees in the company, and you have followed all of the legalities with firing an employee.

Human Resources will help review all of the documentation you have collected and may make suggestions on how to better protect the company. In many cases it makes sense to have someone from HR involved in the termination meeting to serve as a witness and to help discuss any out-boarding activities surrounding pay and benefits.

Start by Creating a Transition Plan

Choose the day and time for the termination meeting with deliberate rationale. There are a lot of opinions on the best time to deliver the termination news, however the right answer truly is what is right for you and your team. Plan the transition so there is as little damage to the company and coworkers as possible.

Think through how you will handle the workload after the termination, and whether or not you’ll need a replacement right away. Determine if there is a potential internal candidate.

Depending on the nature of the position of the person you are letting go, it may be in your best interests to send some subtle signals to customers that there will be a staffing change soon. Or, you may need to notify customers and clients of the change immediately after the termination meeting.

Delivering the Termination Decision

When you bring the employee in to fire them, skip the small talk and move directly to the termination decision. It should be a simple and direct conversation. State the reason for the termination and tell the person directly that they have been terminated. Use the past tense so they understand their employment has ended.

Do not apologize for terminating the employee. This could hurt you legally and it could lead the employee to believe you don’t really want them gone. You must balance the line of this being a business decision, while still treating the situation empathetically.

Do not get caught up the employee’s emotions, however show them compassion and respect. Although firing someone may be a difficult task for you, as the manager, just imagine being on the receiving side of this news.

Let them have a moment to digest the information, if necessary. Each person handles this news differently and no matter how well you know the person, it’s hard to predict how they will react. The employee may show signs of shock, denial, anger or grief.

Do not let the employee argue with you or negotiate keeping their position. The decision has been made and is final.

Always have witness in a termination meeting in case things get out of hand. Having someone from Human Resources in the meeting is helpful, as they are seen as a person of authority in the company and have experience with these types of discussions.

Lastly, discuss any final employment issues like pay, benefits, and unused vacation time. Collect any office keys or other company property from the employee at this time. Coordinate with IT to change access and passwords to anything the employee has access to in the computer system.

Do not let the Employee Linger

In most cases it’s better to have the employee leave the premises immediately, and not allow them to return to their work duties. Allow them to pick up any personal items they have at the office. If they do not feel comfortable collecting their personal items at that time, offer to arrange a time later to return to pick them up.

Be sure to escort the employee to the door, so the employee leaves without any issues. Although you would hope the employee wouldn’t do anything malicious, you want to make sure they leave quietly and don’t take any company files or computer data with them.

Is the Employee a Danger?

While this situation is not common, you need to be prepared in case things go wrong. Know the phone number for the local police and security if the employee were to become belligerent. If you have even a hint that the employee may hurt themselves or others, you need to notify the policy immediately.

Talk to your Team

As soon as possible after the employee leaves, bring your other employees together to tell them that the employee is no longer working for the company. This message should be straightforward. Do not discuss the reason for the termination, as that’s confidential. It’s not respectful to the terminated employee to discuss this with anyone else.

Recognize the office rumor mill will likely be churning once this information is out. Try to keep things quiet by being up front that the person is gone, and what the next steps will be.

Focus on the Future

Have a plan in place for how to handle both the short-term and long-term challenges the termination will present for your team.

Acknowledge that there may be more work to do in the short-term, however talk about the end goal. If there are plans to hire a replacement, share with your team what those plans are. It may make sense to have the other employees involved in the planning of the redistribution of the work.

Ask for a release, and give the employee an incentive to sign it

There are situations that you would be better protected if you had the employee sign a release form or severance agreement. If the employee is a minority, a female, or is over the age of 40, they are in a protected class and it would better suit you to give them an incentive to leave the company quietly.

An employment law attorney could provide you with the appropriate release paperwork and can advise you of the proper timing and protocol when asking an employee to sign the release. Additionally, you can download a template from our website

You can’t force an employee to sign the release, but you can give them an incentive to do so. The incentive is typically some form of a severance payment in exchange for their signature on the release forms. Do not ask the employee to sign the paperwork in the initial meeting. They will need time to read through and consider what the release means with regards to their rights.

If you need additional information on how to fire someone, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of Google, Strip, and Twilio.