How to Fire an Employee Gracefully

fired  sad man sitting down with box

Whether an employee is disruptive, incompetent or simply a bad cultural fit, it’s still a difficult task to terminate their employment. You’ll be drastically changing their lives and will cause them unavoidable stress. Yet it’s a necessary part of the business if you want a great team.

Firing an employee will be awkward and uncomfortable no matter what, but there are a few precautionary steps you can take to make it a little less painful for everyone involved. You’ll also want to protect your legal and financial interests during this process.

To make the termination process and gut-wrenching conversation a little easier follow the tips below:

1. Prepare

Once you’ve established that you need to dismiss an employee, you must first review the employee handbook and consult with your legal and HR department about how to fire an employee. If they are within their probation period, the termination of employment should be quite straightforward as the employee will not yet have any legal requirements.

2. Create a performance improvement plan (PIP)

PIP’s are usually set in place when an employee is not meeting their job requirements. Their poor performance needs to be monitored, they must be set clear objectives and given the adequate training that’s needed to improve. Weekly meetings are organised to review their work and all feedback from their trainer along with examples of their work must be documented. Dan Peyton, employment law partner at legal firm, McGuireWoods said: “The key is that everything has to be investigated and the employee has to have a fair chance to explain themselves and improve.” This gives the employee a fair opportunity to prove their skills and to personally assess if they are suited for the role and company. If not, it gives them the chance to quit and leave the company gracefully.

3. Compile evidence

If you are dismissing an employee due to gross misconduct of some sort you cannot fire them immediately. You must investigate the incident, gather evidence and ask the person to explain their actions. Some companies have a clause in their contract that caters for suspending employees on full pay while a misconduct investigation is held.

4. Set a meeting

Once you have been through the above procedure, you must set a meeting with the employee that you are dismissing. Make sure this is in a private setting where you can’t be heard. It would be mortifying if other employees could hear the private discussion. You can never judge how an employee will react when they receive the news, they may get angry or cry, and you wouldn’t want to cause a scene.

5. Make HR your ally

You must consult with HR every step of the way. They will inform you on employee laws, and advise on what to say during the meeting. You will also need a witness while you are delivering the news. “In this litigious society, HR is your ally in filling in any blanks” according to HBR. Although it’s your responsibility to fire the employee, HR is your safety net to answer questions that you might not have the answer to.

6. Keep it short

The words you use to terminate an employee should be simple and to the point. In these awkward situations, we usually tend to waffle, sugar coat and build up to the bad news. But, this is not fair on the employee; once they walk into the room they need to be advised of the decision. You could say something like “I have some bad news for you. Today is your last day here.” Then state the reasons why and use the evidence that has been collected and shown to the employee over their reviews in the past months. If you have been following the correct procedures, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the employee as they will be aware that they are lacking the skills that the company requires. You can end by saying something like “I’m sorry that it has had to come to this.”

7. Show compassion

Firing can be a difficult chore for you as the manager, but it’s even more traumatising for the employee. Be empathetic towards the employee. If you are happy providing a reference letter, let them know. It’s a good opportunity to highlight their talents and advise on roles that you think they will succeed in. It will help the employee identify their skills and get to know what they would actually enjoy and be good at. They can leave knowing that it was a good learning experience that they needed to go through.

8. Consider offering severance pay

Although you’re not legally required to provide severance pay when an employee’s contract is terminated, it’s common practice. Being fired is a difficult time in a person’s life, and having a generous severance pay to rely on while looking for other employment can take a huge weight off the employee’s shoulders. You must ensure that the employee signs a termination letter with all the agreements clearly stated.

9. Cut off access to the system

Once you have given the employee their notice, you must cut off their access to your systems so they cannot take any sensitive information. This also includes keeping any company possessions from mobile phones to laptops and cars. Offer the employee the option to pick up their personal belongings, or for you to mail it to them. It’s also best if they leave after they have been given the news, so offer to arrange a taxi and pay for it if needed as they may be too upset to take their normal method of transportation. Unless they are violent, there is no need to escort them to their desk and out of the building; they are people that you have worked with for a while and should be treated with respect.

10. Inform other employees

Once you’ve fired the employee, it’s important that you notify other members of staff. If it’s a small company you can arrange a quick huddle to let them know, it’s a good idea to give them a brief explanation so they are not worrying that they will be next on the chopping board. If it’s a large company, do the same with that person’s team to limit gossip throughout the day.

11. Do it ASAP

There are many theories on when is the best time to dismiss an employee, but is there ever a good time to be the bearer of bad news? Some think it is best to do it as soon as you have made the decision, so it’s not lingering above your head. Many believe that terminating someone’s employment on a Monday morning will be more effective as they will have a full week to look for other opportunities and won’t feel like they put in hours for no reason. Others believe that Friday afternoon is best when people are leaving for the weekend as they will have a few days to cool down and accept the news.

There’s no way around it, and you’ll never get used to the unpleasant feeling of firing someone, however much they deserved to go. It doesn’t need to be an unkind situation and the message should be delivered with dignity and mutual respect.

Have you ever had to fire someone? What was it like? Let us know in comments section...