Human Resources

Letting an Employee Go … the Right Way

By Bridget Miller

No matter how well-documented the problem is—and no matter how carefully considered the decision has been—firing an employee is almost always difficult. It’s a moment fraught with high emotions on all sides. Guest columnist Bridget Miller has some tips for doing it the right way.

Firing an employee can cause stress for everyone involved, not just for the individual being fired. Many of us are conflict-averse, and this type of conversation can seem very confrontational, even when handled well. There’s also the emotion involved knowing that this decision likely will have a significant impact on someone’s life.

The termination meeting itself is the culmination of this decision. How the termination meeting is handled can influence how much risk there is for the organization of facing a wrongful termination lawsuit, and it can impact how the entire organization is perceived by the individual who is being let go; it can even impact perception of the organization by the remaining employees. During a termination meeting, emotions are likely to run high. Hold the meeting in a private location, and be prepared to briefly help the employee handle difficult emotions that will likely arise during the conversation. In some cases, employee temper may be a concern. Be sure to be prepared for someone to have an outburst, and be ready to calmly bring him or her back to the conversation at hand. Be as brief as possible while still conveying the needed information.

3 Tips When Firing an Employee

Here are three tips to help the process have a good resolution:

  1. Have a consistent termination process. Having a consistent process can make the termination meeting go more smoothly. It can lead to fewer chances of forgetting something. It can also help minimize problems overall. Many organizations have not created any type of formal, consistent process for terminations. This may not seem to be a problem on the surface (especially if there are not too many terminations at that organization), but the lack of a consistent process can hinder everything in the event of a heated termination meeting or in the event of litigation about the termination itself.
  2. Always involve the right people. One key is to include an impartial participant who will be responsible for keeping the meeting on track and not getting dragged into possible conflicts or frustrations. Most organizations choose an HR manager to act as the impartial company representative and to ensure the process is handled appropriately. As part of the termination process, have a plan for who will be present, who will present the facts to the employee, who will present benefit information (regarding continuation of benefits when applicable), and how the return of employer-owned property will be managed. Doing all of this can help to keep the meeting on track and avoid situations where too much is said (which could increase litigation risk later). If applicable, consider adding security personnel to the meeting or designating who will escort the former employee off the premises.
  3. Documentation is critical, both before and after the termination. Reasons for termination should be documented, and there should be notes taken after the termination meeting to note how it went and what follow-up steps are needed. In cases where there are ongoing problematic behavioral issues with the employee, these should be documented all along, ideally complete with employee signatures noting that the employee understands the remedial steps required and the consequences for noncompliance. When applicable, keep documentation of any investigations or witness statements, disciplinary records, and samples of sub-par work output.


Clearly there are a lot more steps involved in terminating an employee, but following these three tips can help the process go more smoothly, especially during the termination meeting itself.

Does your organization have a written termination process? Even if it is not disclosed to all employees, a written termination process can help those involved to be sure that no steps are missed and to keep the termination meeting brief yet complete.