People dislike firing employees more than any other single task I know of

You’ve counseled, you’ve taught, you’ve done everything possible to help the employee improve. – It just hasn’t worked. So now you need to terminate the individual.

After all, you know this person, you may be aware of personal difficulties, health problems…any number of outside issues which could affect performance. If the situation is temporary setback (a death in the family, a divorce) a discussion with the employee in which you express sympathy along with your assumption that s/he will be getting back to full capacity soon may help him/her understand that the work has not been acceptable and lead to greater to fire an employee


If the situation is likely to continue for a long period (such as a life threatening disease in the employee or a close family member) you need to speak candidly with the employee about expectations, now and in the future, then make a decision based on the facts presented (e.g. we will be hiring home care to free me up; I expect the treatments to end in June).

To protect you, the business and the employee, the process of termination should have started months before the firing – it all should have been documented.

Employee Pat is not doing well on several fronts: missing repeated deadlines, taking excessive sick days, being churlish to other employees and customers.

Here’s one way to handle the problem:

  1. Assuming Pat’s poor performance did not suddenly begin last Tuesday, but has been ongoing, his/her reviews or evaluations should reflect that. If you’ve been providing great reviews and regular raises, then your employee has every reason to believe s/he is doing fine.  If you don’t already evaluate your employees, start now. We have a section on evaluations.
  2. Call Pat into a private space and state the issues with his/her performance. No small talk, get right to the point. Allow Pat an opportunity to offer his/her point of view but do not get into an argument. Outline whatever assistance you are willing to offer such as training or coaching. State clearly what you expect in the future.
  3. Set milestones, expectation, goals and a timeline. Be clear that if goals are not met, the next step will be termination. Have all this on paper. Give Pat a copy and have him/her sign your copy.
  4. During every meeting, be calm, stick to the facts, don’t use inflammatory or condescending language.
  5. Keep records of all disciplinary action, deadlines missed, any infractions. You should create a paper trail to support your actions as fair and considered should the employee sue.
  6. Plan to meet regularly to assess how Pat is doing relative to expectations. Each meeting should produce a written overview of the meeting for Pat to sign.

Lowering the Boom: When all else fails, it’s time to fire the employee

He or She cannot reasonably be surprised if you have followed the steps.

Call the employee into a private space and tell them right away that they are going to be fired, terminated, let go – whatever term you want to use.  Don’t allow them to draw you into an argument.

Immediately begin the business of termination:

  • A list of what the employee must return to the company. This may range from a set of keys to computers and cars.
  • If you are offering any kind of severance, have it in writing for the employee and, if requested, allow time (a few days) to consider it before signing.
  • If you are willing to offer a good reference, say so now. After all, Pat may have some excellent qualities and be a star somewhere else.
  • Finally, wish him/her well in the future.
  • If you suspect that the Pat might become sufficiently angry to throw the odd chair – or punch – have security or another employee in the room or just outside.
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