How to Fire an Employee

Lesson 4: Topic 7 of 14

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Should the decision be to end the employment relationship, do so very carefully. “The 15 or so minutes it takes you to break the bad news to the employee may be the most important part of the employment relationship,” write the authors of Dealing with Problem Employees. “Those 15 minutes may help determine whether the employee sues you, poisons coworkers against you, targets your business for criminal conduct such as theft or sabotage, or resorts to violence.”

There are things fired employees may contemplate that they’d never dream of doing when trying to keep their jobs, so when and where to terminate this person’s employment must be taken into account. If you truly fear being fired will trigger a violent outburst, have a security guard ready to respond (not in the meeting, but nearby) or contact local law enforcement ahead of time. Choose a time when the least number of employees are at work and select a location near an exit to have the conversation. And never break the news to this person alone. Another supervisor, department head, or senior employee should be included. 

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In addition, 

  • Make the announcement outright. Avoid being glib or making chit-chat, such as asking about their day. 
  • Be direct but not unsympathetic. 
  • Be concise as to why this decision was necessary but also very clear this is not open to negotiation. 
  • Do not lie in any way; it feeds a sense of paranoia, isolation and persecution. Don’t, for example, say that the termination is due to something else like budget cuts. 
  • Don’t offer false hope.
    • If they plead not to be fired, for instance, responding by saying “Well, we’ll think about it” when you know you’re NOT going to do so is a very bad idea.
  • Allow the employee to ask questions, disagree, or even vent, but don’t be drawn into an argument or discuss tangential topics.
    • Optionally, offer an exit interview as the appropriate venue to go over the employee’s thoughts and feelings ― but this interview should happen immediately afterward. Allowing this person back into the building at a later date could be catastrophic. 
  • End the meeting on as positive a note as possible. Sincerely thank them for the good they’ve contributed during their time and wish them success in future endeavors.