How do you fire an employee nicely?

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Firing an employee--looking someone straight in the eye and telling them they no longer have a source of income--is one of the toughest things you'll ever have to do as a business owner. Be sure you've spoken with an employment law attorney first and have agreed on the process you should use before terminating anyone's employment.

Firing an employee–looking someone straight in the eye and telling them they no longer have a source of income–is one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do as a business owner. It’s often as hard on the person giving the bad news as it is on the person receiving it. Although, nobody wants to hear that.

First, let’s assume this person is an “at will” employee–someone who doesn’t have an employment contract that guarantees employment for a specified time period. That simplifies any complications. Make sure you verify if your state is an “at will” employment state.

Prepping for your tough conversation

Check your past feedback. Look back at your relationship with this employee, and see what feedback you’ve been sending them over the last few months. If it’s been overly positive signals, don’t fire the employee immediately. That’ll come as too much a shock. Instead, start changing the signals and let them know in no uncertain terms that they’ll need to change their behavior or they risk getting cut.

Give them a warning. Sit the employee down in your office, explain that you’re unhappy with their performance, and give them a limited period of time (I would suggest 30 days) to turn things around. Make sure you give detailed and specific examples so they understand exactly what isn’t appropriate. Give them specific and tangible goals and milestones to hit, so they have an opportunity to save their job. Prepare a “memo to file” detailing what you told the employee.

Focus on specific behavior goals. Give the employee a list of behaviors you find unacceptable, and tell them exactly what they need to do to get back into your good graces. 

What is the best day to terminate an employee?

Fire early in the week and never on a Friday. Assuming the employee doesn’t turn things around for the better, fire them early in the work week. Never fire someone on a Friday, because then they can “stew about it” over the weekend and come into work the following Monday ready for a fight, or even worse.

Make it short, sweet and to the point. Do not get caught up in the employee’s emotions–have a box of Kleenex handy on your desk if you think they’ll need it. Have a witness present during the meeting in case the employee threatens retaliation. Then proceed with the following steps:

What to say to terminate an employee?

1. Tell the employee that they’re being terminated and when they’ll be expected to leave the office.

2. Explain that the firing is “for cause,” but avoid going into detail about the grounds for termination. 

3. If the employee objects or becomes defensive, say simply “I’m sorry, but my mind is made up.”

4. Explain how much severance pay (if any) you’ll be providing and what other benefits they’ll be entitled to after they leave your employment.

5. Explain to them what you’ll say should anyone call and ask you for a job reference.

Be sure you’ve spoken with an employment law attorney first and have agreed on the exact wording.

What should you not do when firing an employee?

You should never fire an employee via messenger, voicemail, social media, or phone call. It’s impersonal, unprofessional, and can cause a lot of ill will (even animosity and anger) directed at your business.

If you’re going to fire an employee, do it face to face. If you can’t do it in person, it’s still best to do a video conference to have the same face to face effect.

One of the worst things you can do is fire an employee out of the blue without warning (this rule doesn’t apply in extreme situations, like if someone becomes violent or steals company property).

Also never fire someone by yourself. Anyone can sue for any reason in today’s society. If you fire an employee by yourself and they decide to take you and the company to court, it becomes their word against yours.

Can I tell employees why I fired someone?

There are no federal laws restricting what information an employer can – or cannot – disclose about former employees. If you fired or terminated an employee, you can say so, and can also give a reason. A good example would be if someone was fired for stealing or falsifying a time sheet.

That being said, be extra careful with what is said and how. What you say has to be the truth or the company can be subject to a lawsuit from the former employee.

Make sure you work with your legal counsel and HR specialist before speaking to the rest of your employees. Be clear, concise, and and don’t give out specifics. When someone is fired or let go, it’s jarring not just for them, but also the rest of the team. Also, don’t let any time go from when you fire the employee to when you talk to your team. Ideally, you should address the situation that same day, so employees understand the situation and no rumors spread.


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