Terminating an Employee? Here’s What You Need to Know

As painful as it may be, terminating an employee in the most gracious, professional way possible enables both of you to correct a serious mistake and move on to better things.

It’s never easy, but here are some tips to guide you through this inevitable occurrence:

Create a transition plan.

Terminations rarely happen on the spur of the moment. Generally, they are the result of a lengthy build-up of unacceptable performance. This gives you time to thoughtfully plan for an upcoming termination meeting.

  • Select the best possible day and time to terminate an employee. Generally, the end of the work week creates the least disruption for everyone involved.
  • Check your succession plan for an internal candidate to replace the person being let go. You may want to recruit ahead of time and wait to fire the individual till you have a replacement ready to go. It also may be advisable to send some subtle advance signals of the pending staff change to clients and customers.
  • Take it step by step. Before you say or do anything, write down your talking points – and then stick to your script. Recognize the situation for what it is: It’s not a coaching or counseling session. It’s an announcement of a final decision that has already been made.
  • Keep it brief. A termination meeting should last an average of 10 to 15 minutes. Skip the small talk and get right to the point. Lead with a clear statement of the bad news you have to deliver. Clarity is a must, and idle conversation can make things cloudier than they need to be.

Know what to say – and what not to say.

Keep your conversation simple and direct. State the reason for the termination in one or two short sentences. Use the past tense; for instance, “Your employment here has been terminated” not “will be terminated.”

When telling someone they’ve been fired, do not say:

  • “I know how you feel.” Because, even if you’ve been terminated from a job yourself in the past, you really don’t.
  • “I know this hurts right now, but later on you’ll realize it’s the best thing that could have happened.” Because it’s not.

Remember the Golden Rule. Even if the employee has made your life a nightmare, treat them with respect and basic compassion – as you would want to be treated if your roles were reversed.

  • Be specific about the next steps. Cover all the essentials, such as pay, benefits, unused vacation time, references, outplacement services, and how to notify coworkers. This is one time when you can’t say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
  • Close the meeting by thanking the employee for their service to your company. Walk them back to their desk and wait while they collect their personal items. Then, accompany them to the exit, shake hands, and wish them well. Part with both of your dignities intact.

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