How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way – Part 1

How to Terminate an EmployeeResilient Recruiter is an Amazon Associate.


The circumstances may be different from company to company, but the end result is the same: you have decided to terminate an employee. This is a decision that is difficult on many levels (for all parties involved), and may have been culminating for a long time. Let’s face it – firing is sometimes necessary, and is part of management (whether we like it or not).

We have already discussed some signs to look for in 5 Telltale Signs You Are About to Get Fired. The employee may or may not know this day is coming, but how you handle it says a great deal about you as a leader, and your company.

The person responsible for delivering the termination message is often filled with anxiety. He or she will be delivering a life-changing blow to the employee, and feelings of guilt and uncertainty are very normal at this time. Employees are terminated for many reasons; most commonly for:

  1. Elimination of a position
  2. Improper personal relationships
  3. Criminal activity
  4. Poor performance
  5. Absenteeism or continued tardiness
  6. Continued violation of other company policies not mentioned above

Regardless of the reason, however, it is still imperative to ensure that a termination is handled with ethics and dignity.

What Do You Want to Avoid When You Terminate an Employee?

When releasing an employee from a position within your company, there are some key actions to avoid in order to make the situation tolerable for those involved:

You Don’t Have Proper Documentation

In most cases, letting a person go is not a split-second decision; it has come as the result of continued disciplinary action.

Have you put the person on a Performance Improvement Plan prior to the termination?

If so, what was the result? Did he or she make a conscious effort to improve?

Having a “paper trail” of consistent documentation provides evidence of your efforts to create accountability for your employee. Proving that he or she continued to violate policies and not improve behaviors provides a justifiable cause for the termination.

If you don’t have violations documented, it becomes a story of “he said, she said” and you are positioning yourself for legal troubles.

You Aren’t Compassionate

This is a slap in the face to any employee – and you could end up with a literal slap in the face if you approach a termination without respect!

Be honest. Calmly explain what is happening and why. Do not raise your voice, or make personal, demeaning comments to the employee.

Be conscious of your messaging. Be prepared with what you plan to say and how you are going to say it. Now is not the time to wing it, because you may say something you don’t mean. Given the circumstances, this could have a lasting effect.

Be sure you will be delivering the news in a private location, so that the person is not publicly humiliated.

Listen. Different people process emotions differently, so be prepared to be a listening ear if necessary.

You Are Not Prepared for Next Steps

When you deliver the news of a termination, documentation isn’t the only item you have to be prepared for. As mentioned above, you will have to be ready to handle the emotions that come with a life-altering event. There will likely be anger – directed at you. There may be tears. There may be denial.

The employee will begin a formal grieving process, and you need to be prepared to handle it.

It is a good idea to have another person present when delivering a termination message, but that may not always be an option. If possible, be sure that the person is taking notes about the conversation, and reactions on both parts.

Be prepared to answer questions about next steps. Your employee may not know what will happen next, so be prepared to provide some answers.

Since the event will be very emotional, the employee may or may not be able to process all of the information you are providing, so have a packet of information ready regarding what the next steps will be.

Explain whether there will be a Severance Package or Outplacement provided, and a contact name for more information.

If it is a downsizing, be prepared to provide some options for the employee: other companies to look at, contacts they may want to make. Your willingness to assist in the transition will make it easier to bear.

You Have Delivered the Message: Now What?

In Part 2 of How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way, we will discuss what you, as an employer, need to do once that employee walks out the door to ensure a positive outcome for both the terminated employee, and his or her existing colleagues.




by Natalie Lemons
Natalie Lemons is the Founder and President of Resilience Group, LLC, and The Resilient Recruiter and Co-Founder of Need a New Gig. She specializes in the area of Executive Search and services a diverse group of national and international companies, focusing on mid to upper-level management searches in a variety of industries. For more articles like this, follow her blog.  Resilient Recruiter is an Amazon Associate.

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2 thoughts on “How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way – Part 1

  • Love it! Definitely all incredibly simple, yet surprisingly unused approaches to termination. I worked as a recruiter for years, and I saw so many incredibly – awkward – situations due to NOT following these guidelines!

    • Thanks Savannah! It is never easy – and almost always awkward. Definitely stay tuned for Part 2 – publishing tomorrow!

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