Business Tips

You’re fired! What is the best way to terminate an employee?

“You’re fired!”

These are the words often used on TV shows to indicate a worker has been let go. But, in reality, most businesses use other language to let you know that “your services will no longer be needed”. No matter how many different ways it can be said, the reality is someone no longer has a position with your company.

While employee termination is inevitable, it does not mean that it is easy. For one, you directly are affecting someone’s income to take care of themselves. Two, you have to ensure you followed the necessary steps, so you avoid any legal actions that could be taken against you; if the termination was done prematurely.

Legally, employer’s have rights, too. You have the right to decide if you offer at-will employment or contracts. At-will contracts are where you can terminate an employee anytime with or without reason. A contract employee is afforded the process of having a process before a termination can take place.

Most states are at-will states and it sounds easy. Do not think that as the business owner you can terminate employee contracts’ for anything, albeit that’s how it sounds.


No matter what, it’s still federally illegal to fire workers for their age, race, religion, sex, national origin or disability (so long as it doesn’t interfere with their job performance).

Public Policy

You cannot fire someone for something that is statute or constitutional law or right. You may not agree with the employee’s action, but you cannot fire them. This is a sensitive topic. In these cases, you have to be extremely careful to not fire, appear discriminatory, because all of it could be a cause to be sued.

Now that the legalities have been covered, how exactly should you do it?

How do you fire an employee?

  1. Review Workplace Policy and Procedures

As a business owner, you should have policies and practices outlined at your place of employment. This should inform you or your human resources coordinator of job descriptions and codes and consequences of conduct. Review it to be sure you have held yourself and your team accountable for their performance and their contributions to workplace culture.

If you are confident that your policies have been followed, then invite the employee to a face-to-face meeting.

  1. Documented Infractions

In this face-to-face meeting, you should be prepared to discuss any work infractions that have already occurred and been documented. You need to have had some procedure in place where you had spoken with the employee about performance issues. The employee needs to sign off on having been informed about the issue.

This shows you were an employer who worked to improve his team and boost morale. This procedure, prior to termination, allows an employee to improve. You could create a performance plan to show that you want them on your team and trust they are willing to take the necessary steps to improve performance. However, if the employee does not rise to the challenge and rectify the errors, then the firing must take place.

  1. Clear, Concise Communication

Don’t sugarcoat it and don’t linger. State the reason for the face-to-face meeting clearly. Clearly state they are being fired. Explain clearly, with the support of your documented infractions and performance plans, the reason for the termination. Make clear the date that termination will be effective.

Listen to anything that the employee would like to share. Then, restate your final decision for the termination.

  1. Let go, Legally

You must fulfill certain legal obligations and provide a terminated employee with information about the date the termination goes into effect, as well as when benefits will end. Notify the employee about their last paycheck and how they will receive it.

Depending on the length of employment, be prepared that you may have to pay unemployment benefits for the terminated employee.

  1. Do it with Dignity

Thank the employee for their service. Give them well wishes on their next endeavor. If you feel inclined to share if you would be willing to provide a reference for them in their future employment pursuit.

Also, if done with dignity, then you are less likely to get a disgruntled former employee. They will accept the transition and move on. If they feel otherwise, you may encounter a lawsuit or just bad word-of-mouth publicity about working for your company.

7 DON’Ts to avoid when firing an employee:

  1. DON’T fire an employee unless you are in a face-to-face meeting.
  2. DON’T fire without warning, unless there has been a heinous offense.
  3. DON’T have the termination conversation without a witness.
  4. DON’T let them think the termination is not final.
  5. DON’T allow them to access their work area or co-workers during business hours.
  6. DON’T allow them access to the company’s information systems.
  7. DON’T end the termination meeting with low energy or morale.

With these and other best practices, you should avoid any legal issues that could come from firing an employee. Also, these practices show that you are a supportive workplace that anyone should want to work for. These steps go on to make your current employees feel secure in their position, since there was a clear, private procedure in place.

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