Developing a script for terminating an employee is an important task for every business. With a script in place, the process of terminating an employee should be easier and more effective.

Basic Script for Firing an Employee

If you need to fire one of your company's employees, having a script in place can make the process much easier.

When you're ready to fire someone, you should be direct:

"Joe, we've decided to let you go. Today is your last day. Thank you for the work you've done here, and I want to leave on friendly terms. I have some logistics to go over with you. Afterward, I can answer your questions."

A Script for Firing People: What to Say So You Don't Get Stabbed, Coach Tony, Better Humans

Your method for firing an employee can include a few basic strategies:

  • Inform the employee of their termination clearly and quickly. Don't delay giving them the bad news.
  • If you feel like you need to, you can try to help the employee deal with the firing with compliments or other pleasant language. You should be aware, however, that most of what you say will be perceived negatively, regardless of your intent.
  • After telling the employee about their termination, discuss the logistics of the decision.

Discussing Logistics

Before you arrange a meeting with your employee to inform them of their termination, there are several logistical matters that you need to consider:

  • Property that you need the employee to return. This could include a company computer or a keycard that provides access to your business premises.
  • Preparing the employee's final paycheck.
  • Drafting a separation agreement that your employee will sign to affirm their termination.

When writing the termination agreement, you will need to give your employee something of value. This is known as consideration. You could, for instance, offer your employee a severance package that they would only be able to access after signing the agreement.

During the termination meeting, you will need to discuss these logistical matters with the employee. Here is another script from Better Humans' Coach Tony that you can follow:

"These are the logistics.

Today is your last day. I have your final paycheck, covering payment through today [hand it to them]. I also have a separation agreement for you [hand it to them]. If you sign the separation agreement, I can give you severance of $X. [show envelope for that check.] I'd understand if you want to review the agreement. The separation agreement expires in X days [usually 5].

Also, could you please leave your laptop and keycard at your desk. We're not going to ask you to do any more work today.

If you'd like to take your belongings home right now, that's fine. I'm going to gather the team after this meeting and let them know what's going on.

Otherwise, you can come back tomorrow morning at 9 A.M. and I'll help you carry your things down.

My feeling is that you're leaving on good terms with everyone. This is a work day for us, but if you'd like to reach out to people on the team after work hours, I think they'd appreciate it.

Do you have any questions?"

You have two goals when discussing these matters. First, you need to convince the employee to sign the termination agreement. Second, you need your employee to gather their belongings and leave the property without causing a disruption.

Questions Your Employee May Ask

When faced with a termination, most employees will want to know why they're being fired. If you've followed the proper procedure, however, you have likely already tried to correct the issue that led to the termination. Therefore, there is no need to talk with your employee about why they are being let go. The meeting should be focused on how the termination will proceed, not the reasons that the firing is happening.

In addition to asking about why they're being fired, your former employee may have questions about their eligibility for unemployment. You should not give a definite answer to this question. Instead, try this response from A Script for Firing People: “That's a good question, and I'm not sure I know the definitive answer to that. Could you speak to Ventureloop? Here is their contact info.”

While Ventureloop, a third-party human resources service, works with mainly venture-backed and startup companies, you may also choose to direct your former employee to your company's human resources department or your state's employment security agency.

Anger is a common reaction to being fired. If your employee is angry at their termination and starts acting disruptively, you can hopefully defuse the situation with this suggested sentence from Coach Tony: “There's no need for that. I enjoyed working with you and wish you well in the future.”

Don't Avoid a Necessary Firing

Firing an employee can be very difficult, which is why it's common for managers to come up with excuses why they don't need to terminate an ineffective employee. For example, some managers try to convince themselves that maybe the employee's performance will improve if they are simply given time. Unfortunately, this hope isn't realistic.

If a manager has taken steps to correct an employee's poor performance, and the employee is still unable to satisfactorily fulfill their duties, they must be let go. When a manager continually avoids firing an underperforming worker, it reflects weakness in the manager.

Another excuse managers use to avoid firing an employee is that it's better to have someone in the position than an empty spot in the company. In reality, it can be much better to leave a position vacant than have it filled by a bad employee. Bad workers make everyone's job much harder, which means avoiding terminating such an employee can impact an entire organization. Of course, if the employee's role is vital to the company, a manager may need to wait to fire the employee until a suitable replacement has been found.

In some cases, the manager and other employees may be able to take on the responsibilities of the terminated employee until their position has been filled. Firing an underperforming employee can be a good opportunity to determine if there's a more effective way of fulfilling the responsibilities of the former employee. For example, delegating their duties to other staff members may be more cost-effective than hiring someone new.

A common fear of managers is that firing an employee will give them a reputation as a bad person. While this worry is understandable, the reality is that failing to terminate an employee that is not pulling their weight is even more damaging to a manager's standing. Other employees will likely question why the underperforming worker has not been fired, and they may even resent the fact that they're having to work harder due to the employee's lack of performance. Delaying a necessary firing can impact the morale of the entire workforce, and it can cause the manager to lose the respect of their co-workers. A manager who treats employees fairly and enforces standards will garner much more respect.

Assigning an underperforming employee to a new position is another avoidance tactic commonly used by managers. Although it's possible the employee will succeed in a new role, this is rare unless the employee gets reassigned as soon as a problem occurs. Assuming the employee has the necessary skills and attitude, moving them to a new position may be worth the effort. On the other hand, if the employee has a poor attitude and a lack of ability, transferring them is not a good decision, as you are simply solving one department's problem by making an issue for another.

Terminations should never be delayed out of a fear that the employee will take the firing negatively. Although this is certainly a concern, putting off the firing will often make the employee's reaction worse. If there is a legitimate worry that the employee may become aggressive or violent after being fired, the manager should meet with human resources prior to the termination to arrange for security to be present.

Mistakes Managers Make

Even the most experienced manager can make a mistake when firing an employee. For example, emotions can run high during a termination, and if the manager fails to remain calm, it can make the situation much worse. The employee will likely become upset when they find out they're being fired.

To make sure the termination goes as smoothly as possible, the manager should keep their emotions in check, regardless of how the employee reacts. If there is an ongoing conflict between the employee and the manager, both parties will be tense during the firing, which makes the situation very difficult. The manager should give the employee time to make their case without interrupting, and when the employee is finished talking, the manager should clearly state that the decision is final.

A lack of preparation is another mistake that managers commonly make when firing an employee. No matter what you say to the employee, they will remember it in a negative light, so it's important that you use clear and confident language.

Before firing an employee, a manager should practice what they will say. Writing a few key sentences down as a reference may be helpful. In addition to preparing for what they will say, managers should also think about topics that they will not be willing to discuss.

For example, no matter the reasons the manager gives for the firing, the employee will almost always have a counter-argument for why they should not be fired. The manager should state outright that the termination is not up for debate, and should resist engaging with the employee's arguments.

In some cases, the manager may be able to help the employee deal with the termination positively. Feeling compassion for the employee is natural, and the manager may want to express these feelings, although this should be avoided in some cases. If the firing is due to poor performance, giving the employee compliments is a bad idea, as they will ring hollow.

Employee Termination Example

Following this basic script can make it much easier to properly terminate an employee:

Employer: Steve, the reason that I have called this meeting is so that I and the Director of Human Resources can discuss the quality of your work. As you may recall, we've had several of these meetings recently to help you identify areas where you can improve your performance. Unfortunately, we have not seen this desired improvement.

Steve: What are you saying? I'm fired?

Manager: Yes. We've given you several opportunities to improve your performance and have provided you with multiple warnings and notices, both written and verbal. Despite these chances, you failed to make the adjustments that we requested.

Steve: I just don't understand. My manager gave me very positive feedback on the project that I completed last month.

Manager: Steve, I'm sorry, but the decision to end your employment is final. We won't be discussing any specifics about your record.

Steve: This is so unfair. I don't get how you can fire me but not Ricky. He makes so many more mistakes than I do. Why does he still have a job?

Manager: This meeting isn't about other employees. It's about your performance, and we simply aren't satisfied with the work you are submitting.

Steve: Last month I talked about moving into another position. Would that be possible?

Manager: I'm sorry, Steve. Everyone here likes you as a person, but it's simply time to move on. You can be sure that we didn't come to this decision lightly. We have made our choice, and our minds won't be changed. Good luck with your future endeavors.

Employee Termination Preparation

Preparing to fire an employee includes several crucial steps:

  • Making sure your company's manual is up to date.
  • Creating a discipline policy that is both fair and consistent.
  • Establishing expectations for your employee.

Actually firing an employee, however, is a much different matter. How you handle a termination will test your ability to lead and own your business. Remaining confident is the key to successfully terminating an employee. You should understand the proper procedure for letting an employee go and try to prepare for the different ways that the situation can play out.

If you need help with a script for terminating an employee, you can post your legal needs 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 companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.