How to Fire an Employee Respectfully
If you’ve ever been laid off, downsized, dismissed, let go, or any of the other fifty or more euphemisms for “fired,” you know how gut-wrenching it can be. And doing the laying off, downsizing, dismissing, letting go, or just plain firing is not without its own trauma. Terminating an employee for poor performance was one of the hardest things I ever had to do as a manager.
Legal problems can result from firing someone, so be sure to seek advice from your HR department, and perhaps websites such as this one or this one on how to avoid legal repercussions. My concern in this article is how to terminate an employee as respectfully as possible.
Never fire an employee in anger or you may end up regretting it. Except in remote team situations, do the firing in person, not by phone, email, or any other technology. Try to find a private office to allow the employee to retain personal dignity.
It may be a good idea to have someone else present to take notes while you communicate the termination. Strive for objectivity; keep the termination factual, and try to keep it from becoming an emotional situation.
Keep the meeting short. You’ve presumably had previous conversations with the employee about steps necessary to retain the job, and there’s no need to belabor those points. Answer all questions from the employee that you can and make clear that your decision is final. And in all you say, be truthful. For example, if the employee is being terminated due to poor performance, resist the temptation to claim the company is cutting back.
If you prefer to carry out the termination meeting alone, take a few minutes afterward to document what was said and anything that happened. If the employee takes legal action, that documentation can become valuable to you.
The key, overall, is to treat the employee with respect. Even if the person is guilty of poor performance or inappropriate behavior, be as compassionate as you can.
Afterward, it could be useful to focus on lessons learned. Be proactive in preventing low morale by talking to the dismissed employee’s teammates to gauge their thoughts and feelings—without, of course, disclosing anything confidential. Talking with the team can be especially valuable if the person let go was well-liked.
Have you ever been fired in an unacceptable way? Or, conversely, in a way that left you respecting the person who did the deed? Share your experiences in the comments section below.