The “Don’ts” of Firing an Employee I

When preparing to fire an employee, some of us flash back into the movies where the boss walks in, tells the employee they’re fired and it’s over.  But, that is not how it works in the real world.  There are many incorrect ways to fire an employee.  These methods can cause anxiety or embarrassment to the employee and the manager, but can also leave the company open for a lawsuit regarding harassment from management or even wrongful termination.

No Performance Improvement Plan


One of the most common complaints from terminated employees is that they were not given any warning of any wrong-doing or wrongful behavior.  From this, the employee also states that they were not given the chance to fix their behavior or improve performance.

A manager should never fire an employee without allowing some attempt for the employee to recognize their behavior or mistake and given the chance to correct it.  One of the most common ways to do this is to provide the employee with a performance improvement plan, or PIP.  Through a PIP, the employee can gain access to additional training as well as additional tools and supplies to improve their performance over a period of time.  The PIP allows all changes, behaviors and actions to be recorded, so the PIP can be used at any point in which the employee’s behavior comes into question.  In a termination meeting, it can be used as a main tool to show an employee’s lack of improvement or behavior correction.

Using an Electronic Method

When a manager terminates an employee, it should always be done in a face-to-face meeting.  This allows the employee to ask questions and allows the manager to give all the information they have to offer, as well as signing any releases or final paperwork.  An employee should never be fired via an electronic method, such as by telephone, email, text messages or even voicemail.  These methods leave too much room for error and can cause confusion with the employee.  In many cases, the message may not be properly delivered or observed, and an employee can become embarrassed when they show up for work after missing a voicemail message saying she had been fired.

In the least, all employees deserve the respect and dignity to be told about their termination in person.  Using an electronic method only show cowardice from the company and belittles the employee as a part of the company and as a person.

Fire Without a Witness

Unfortunately, many terminated employees will become angry enough to sue their former employer once they are let go, based on a number of reasons.  During any termination meeting, it is important that the manager have another employee present to serve as a witness and can provide alternate documentation or testimony if needed later.  In most cases, this witness is someone from the human resources department, since they can not only serve as a witness for the manager, but can offer the employee additional information regarding benefits and employee references.  Generally, human resource staff often has more experience firing and hiring employees, so they can offer some assistance to the manager when needed.

If a member of human resources is not available, a security officer or even department supervisor can also serve as a valuable witness.  The goal is to have another person in the room besides the manager and employee that is being terminated.

Provide Long Reason for Firing

Before deciding to terminate an employee, the manager should have already conducted research in the employee’s file, such as previous disciplinary meetings, performance improvement plans and any past achievements in the company.  One thing every manager should be prepared for is when the employee asks why they are being fired.  When asked this question, avoid providing long, drawn out reasoning or rationale.  At any point, the employee will argue the point or become defensive, which they believe may reverse your decision, or at least delay it.  Instead, offer a short and summarized answer, without placing any form of blame or accusation.  Stick to something as simple as “We’re letting you go because *insert event here* and that is not acceptable” or “It goes against our company policy regarding *instance here*”.  Simply state the facts you have, and avoid indulging in emotional responses, such as “I’m sorry to do this” or “I wish things could be different”.

Case Study

Maria and Jack were discussing the prospect of having to fire one of their employees, Susan.  Jack said he wanted to be sure that all of their bases were covered before they actually file to terminate her.  First, he asked Maria if Susan had ever been put on a PIP.  Maria looked in Susan’s past records and found that she had been put on a PIP, but minimal improvement was documented.  Jack then determined that they would need a witness present when speaking with Susan, so he made a note to contact HR and have a representative come down.  

“Of course the meeting will be held in person, but we should have the meeting in the conference center”, Maria said.  She knew the conference center was not being used and would be a fair location.

Finally, Jack said they should finalize any reasoning or decisions as to why they are letting Susan go.

“She’s being let go due to a lack of performance,” Jack said.  “It’s as simple as that, so we mustn’t go into any forms of drawn out reasoning or banter with her.”