Skip to content

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: How to Fire Someone (Nicely)

how to fire someone

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: How to Fire Someone (Nicely)

There are lots of perks to being the boss – you might make more money, avoid the least interesting work, and have better hours. But there’s one job that makes everyone else relieved they are not in charge, and that’s when it is time to terminate an employee. If you don’t know how to fire someone in the least painful way possible, these tips might make a tough situation a little more bearable.

how to fire someone

Consider these tips on how to fire someone (and be a little less miserable):

Timing is everything. You’re about to give someone terrible news. They will be angry, sad, shocked, embarrassed or all of the above.

[bctt tweet=”If you have to let someone go, do absolutely everything you can to preserve his or her dignity.” username=””]

Some advise taking a person off site at lunchtime, so that they can take the day without returning to the office if they wish. Others suggest a Friday so they have the weekend to absorb (although this can also mean two days of panicking and not having access to important people like human resources).

If you absolutely must walk a person off the premises per company policy, definitely arrange for an early morning or end of day meeting so they can collect their belongings in private.

Get trained. If you haven’t let someone go before, or it’s your first time at your current company, get help and learn how to fire someone in line with employee policy. Reach out to human resources for help, or even check with legal.

Your own boss is also a good contact, since they are likely to approve of your process if it matches their own. At the very least, understand the legal requirements of letting someone go (different states have different laws) and optimally, you will make an unpleasant conversation as painless as possible.

Stay on script. Plan ahead what you’re going to say. Anticipate the response – obviously you will get questions like when their last day will be, details of their severance package, etc. But also be ready for the most likely question “Why?” Which leads us to. . .

Avoid surprises. If the company has been going through a difficult financial time and layoffs are imminent, don’t mislead people by insisting that everyone’s job is secure. If you are terminating someone for a poor performance, you should have given performance reviews (see here our tips for how to do these well) that indicated they weren’t measuring up.

If there was no way for the person to anticipate the news, acknowledge it, but don’t apologize – “I know this news is unexpected and very difficult.”

Operate strictly on a need to know basis. If ever there was a time to avoid gossip, it’s now. Don’t tell anyone in advance who doesn’t need to know.

If your assistant manages your calendar, schedule this yourself and mark private, or simply tell him it’s a lunch meeting with a member of the team. On the other hand, there are likely people who do need to know – HR, for one, and perhaps the IT team if accounts need to be closed.

Even if you know how to fire someone, it’s never easy.

And it shouldn’t be. If you’ve gotten to the point where ending someone’s employment doesn’t make you feel a little bit awful, you need to take a hard look at yourself. It’s not supposed to be easy; it’s supposed to be a thoughtful decision and a sensitive process. But if you do it well, you can make someone’s awful day, a little more bearable.