Guide: 15 things to never do when firing an employee


Approach the process with professionalism and a lot of empathy, and follow these tips to ensure you cover all bases, according to new research from Headway Capital.

Image: iStock/kiattisakch

Of all the work, reports, projects, and duties to pass on to a colleague, the least-wanted assignment would be the person responsible for firing a subordinate. It’s an odious undertaking for whoever draws the unfortunate responsibility. A dismissal is met with dread by both parties, as the potential for an emotional response is always a possibility. To deal with the inevitable–and whether you are the person’s manager or a human resources’ (HR) staffer, and whether you are well-acquainted with them or not–it’s always best to be prepared. Despite the training HR departments receive, it not only never gets easier firing a person, handling the situation while it’s happening and dealing with the potential aftermath.

Headway Capital just released a 15-step guide on what not to when firing someone, which covers the bases of the admittedly exhausting and dreaded meeting. (Note: the “never-do” list may read as designed for an on-premises interaction, but can also refer to in-company virtual meetings conducted online, as necessitated by sheltering-at-home/
remote work

due to COVID-19 .)

Firing is often the last “solution” and the reasons for the decisions vary and include, “Not a right fit for the role or company, and sometimes loss of trust in the employee after multiple situations,” said Amy Ashton, agency director at NeoMam Studios, a website content provider. “In such a situation, it may feel like the money spent on continuing to hire the person is money wasted, especially when compared to an employee who’s proven to be a good fit where it feels like we should always be paying them more.”

Anyone who takes on a managerial or supervisory position knows that letting go of an employee–as difficult as it is–is something they will have to face. Unfortunately, getting fired still carries the stigma it always has Ashton said, “Every time you’ve got to fire an employee, your confidence as a manager/boss takes a toll and it can make it harder to trust your instincts in the future when you’re looking to hire someone new for the role. On top of that, no one wants to make someone feel ashamed or not good enough, so the days before letting go of an employee can be really hard on the manager–even though you know the person will find a role elsewhere that is a better fit for their skills and values.”

Finance company Headway Capital’s guide warns that “doing it badly can negatively impact all involved,” so it has presented what you should never do (even if instinct tells you otherwise). The group consulted HR executives, lifestyle coaches, and educators to compile the guide.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

15 things you never should do when firing someone

  1. Never: Don’t drag it out (even while it’s still an idea percolating in your mind). While it’s important to begin the process quickly, think first. Never just call the person into your office and blurt it out. The guide advised that it’s important to act fast but if it appears you’re procrastinating, the perception around the office will be that you lack courage and leadership. Do: Arrange a specific time and day to meet with the employee (this in itself will give you a window of opportunity to prepare)
  2. Never make a decision like firing and then execute it without consulting with the company’s HR department, which has specific guidelines to follow. Do: Have documented information at the ready for HR, it will “build a strong case for speedy resolution.”
  3. Never fire someone over email. Employees react better when they can observe body language. Do: Use nonverbal communication to avoid a confrontation; tip your head to the side as it demonstrates vulnerability or curiosity about the other person. 
  4. Never fire on a Friday. Do it earlier in the week so the employee has time to network. It also alleviates anxiety for your team over the weekend. Do meet at lunch or at a time when the impact on company business will be lessened.
  5. Never be unprepared. Anticipate questions the employee might have, formulate and practice your answers. Do Remember to have with you when you meet: Performance reviews, disciplinary actions, notes of any infractions, the employee’s last paycheck, severance or unemployment benefits/information.
  6. Never meet the employee alone. Have someone witness the meeting. “It provides emotional support and a sense of professionalism,” the guide said. Do Make sure an HR representative is present.
  7. Never tell them that “this is as hard on” you as it is them. It’s disingenuous because it probably isn’t. Adhere to your prepared points and notes. Do explain specifically why they’re being let go, the guide stressed, express compassion to their emotions, and offer to discuss future jobs that would be a better fit.
  8. Never recite or present a long list of failures, keep your reasons brief and clear, because it will spare them from feeling worse. Do say “We set objectives and unfortunately they weren’t met in the time frame.”
  9. Never get caught up in a lengthy discussion. Get to the point, make sure they know the decision is final. The guide warned that if you get into a longer conversation, the employee might think it’s more of a disciplinary action meeting, instead of what it is, a termination meeting. Do refer to your prepared answers, don’t respond to negative comments, and don’t apologize.
  10. Never make excuses, because it opens up the potential to get caught up in building a case on nonexistent issues, and it will look like you are trying to justify your decision. Worse, it will appear as if you are unsure. Do say “This relationship isn’t working, and it’s best for both parties to end it,” recommended the guide.
  11. Never let the employee leave with a disruption to the rest of the office, never let them gather things alone, assign a team member to help the ex-employee gather their belongings, which ensures a quick process and will hopefully minimize repercussions. Do assign someone with “good sensitivity soft skills, as the person might be visibly upset,” Headway Capital’s guide noted.
  12. Never forget to remove the employee’s access to important information, immediately revoke their access to emails, servers, internal networks, and any company social media–this will eliminate potential security breaches.  Do work with your IT team and figure out what access the employee has had, what they might have downloaded prior to termination, and determine the impact on the company in the long term.
  13. Never keep the information a secret from the rest of the staff. Communicate with them, let the rest of the team know what happened–it will reduce potential stress, tension, and anxiety. Do inform your team as soon as you can that there may be changes to their workload. Also, let them know if there are any new opportunities pending.
  14. Never “leave room for gossip.” Be sure you address the rest of the team honestly so there isn’t any speculation around the office. Do set up a team meeting after the dismissal to openly discuss it, see if the rest of the team has questions or wants to share an opinion.
  15. Never continue on as usual. When someone is fired, the need to rebuild office morale increases. You need to reassure how valuable they are and how you appreciate their contributions. Do speak to each team member affected by the dismissal and have a frank discussion about why and how they are valued.

Recruiter James Congdon of WithFrontier said, “Provide constructive feedback on why they were let go from a role, so that they can grow and improve.” It’s important to remember that, just as there are many personalities and characters, no termination experience will be the same. These tips, gathered from many experts by Headway Capital can help the process go smoothly; remember that prep on your part takes place before, during, and after the firing.

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