Firing an Employee as Painlessly as Possible


Wondering if you should let someone go? Ask yourself: “Knowing what I know now, would I hire this person if they landed on my doorstep this afternoon with a resume?” The answer will give you a clear message.

Maybe you inherited employees. Maybe you hired in a rush when you had a key role to fill. Maybe last year’s spectacular hire has lost their shine. Whatever the reason, no matter how much time and energy you put into hiring the perfect candidate, eventually you will find yourself having to fire someone. It is one of the hardest challenges you will face as a business owner, but once you’ve made the decision to let someone go, acting swiftly is the best course of action.

Sometimes you’re just not going the same direction. Sometimes the job is simply done. If an employee is leaving of their own accord, make sure to schedule an exit interview. Final interviews lower turnover rate, increase employee retention, and generate honest, useful feedback. Exit interviews can also promote networking, keeping the door open with the employee who is leaving for future collaboration and referrals.

A savvy business owner consciously and consistently refrains from burning bridges. Today’s redundant engineer could be the champion of tomorrow’s huge project. The IT specialist who left to start their own company may opt to return to your firm’s steady pay cheque and great benefits. A salesperson may leave, but prove to have an extensive network of top quality associates to send your way for years to come. Things end. It’s how we end them that counts.

With over 3 billion people using social media worldwide and over 80% of North Americans using a social network, an unhappy employee can cause a lot of damage. Current and former employees are likely discussing your business or your management style on global platforms, online communities, job boards and market-specific forums. Comments and feedback, whether positive or negative, accurate or totally off-base, can spread like wildfire. Employees also have a great amount of influence with friends, families and associates on social media. While business relationships don’t always work out like we had hoped, a little grace, tact and humanity can go a long way towards maintaining your firm’s reputation.

When you have to let someone go, do it as gently and honestly as possible, without apologies. Always give your people the benefit of the doubt, especially a long-standing employee. Hear them out, and if appropriate, offer any help you can provide.

That being said, the old adage ‘hire slow and fire fast’ is almost always the right way to approach a problematic employee. Delivering bad news is never easy. Think about your company, your clients, and your other employees — the ones picking up the slack and working longer hours to make up for someone else’s poor performance. It’s in their best interest too. The person you have to let go will be better off in short order as well. Sometimes people get ‘stuck.’ They are likely not happy where they are, and hopefully it will push them towards finding a career that they love.


A few more things to keep in mind that can make firing an employee less painful:

1. Never fire without a witness in the room. Ensure that incidents have been well documented. Talk to your lawyer directly if you have any concerns.

2. Know what you are going to say and get to it immediately. Don’t draw the conversation out any longer than it needs to be, and don’t mince words. “Mike, I have bad news, and I am going to get right to the point. You haven’t hit your quotas for three months in a row, and I have to let you go.”

3. Stick to the facts, and don’t become embroiled in an argument. It serves no purpose, and will only add fuel to the fire.

4. Have the employee’s final cheque (and severance package if applicable) ready if possible. It reassures them that you plan to conclude your relationship fairly.

5. Afford every employee the opportunity to leave in a dignified manner. “I’d be happy to walk out of here together as if it’s just business as usual. I appreciate how difficult this is, and don’t want to embarrass you. How do you want to play it?”

6. Break the news Monday morning. It would be great for you to get this over with at the end of the week, but firing on a Friday doesn’t sit well with an upset, terminated employee. There isn’t much a person can do to move forward on a Saturday or Sunday. Breaking the news on a Monday gives the employee every chance to successfully transition to another company sooner, and tends to result in less litigation.

7. Try not to fire someone just before the holidays, on their birthday or if they have just experienced a devastating event, such as the loss of a family member or spouse. This looks inhumane, even if it is justifiable, and it can demoralize not only them, but your entire organization.

8. Ensure the safety of other employees and customers with on-site security if you think it might be warranted.

9. If you need any documents signed, don’t push. Allow the employee to take them, or have a package couriered to their home. Obtain any keys, credit cards, and security items that a disgruntled ex-employee might be tempted to misuse before a cooling off period.

10. Gather your team as soon as possible to inform them of what has happened and how it will affect them. Change makes people nervous. Reassure them that there were grounds for dismissal but do not go into any details. “As some of you may already be aware, Jennifer is no longer part of this organization. If you have suggestions about how to minimize the impact of her absence, please let me know.”


Above all, learn from your mistakes. Take the time to implement new hiring and reference checking practices immediately. Discuss how to prevent bad hires in the future with your team, and keep them involved in the hiring process. Deal with employee issues the moment they arise as little things can quickly become big things. There will never be a good time to fire someone, but if you act quickly and fairly, you can minimize the damage and focus on moving forward.

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