The Right Way to Fire an Employee

Entrepreneur, Speaker, Author, & CEO of The Newsletter Pro
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of the most difficult parts of running any business is managing people. Right now at my company, The Newsletter Pro, we have 38 employees, and unfortunately over the last five years I’ve had to fire a few. Firing someone is never pleasant, but with some studying, a bit of trial, and a ton of error, we’ve found a way to make the process as painless as possible for everyone involved. Below is our system for firing someone; but before I jump into it, I want to also share with you a few quick lessons I had to learn the hard way.

  • Don’t let employees bring in anything that can’t be carried out in a few small boxes, at most. I know that sounds harsh, but I have made the mistake of allowing people to bring in furniture, which caused a big scene when they exited the company.
  • You need a witness for 100 percent of the process. Neither you nor the witness can leave the room at any point in the process. This is very important; don’t mess this part up, as you could end up in a lawsuit.
  • Finally, put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a minute. Regardless of how “bad” an employee they were, don’t forget they are a person and their world has been rocked. You can be firm, quick, and compassionate at the same time.

Related: 10 Steps Needed to Properly Fire Someone

When you bring someone in to be fired, you want to make sure you start the conversation with a phrase that lets them know they are here for bad news so they have a minute to brace themselves. In any hard conversation, we say, “I need you to buckle up, this is going to be a hard conversation.” Once we say that, we simply pause for a few seconds to allow them to brace, and then we jump right into the script.

“Jim we have decided to part ways with you, effective immediately. I want you to know I have given this a lot of thought, and my decision is final.”

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the above statement: First, it is very important to be brief. Notice I didn’t give a reason why, or try to justify my decision. I also made it clear that this isn’t a negotiation by saying that I had given it a lot of thought and my decision is final. Should someone try to negotiate, I will remind them of these points. After a brief two-second pause, I then go into housekeeping info. Remember, they are scared right now because there are suddenly a ton of unknowns in their life, and we need to try and ease some of those concerns.

“Jim, after we are done here, Joe will walk you to your desk so you can gather your things, and then escort you out. I will need your key to the office. Your final paycheck plus a two-week severance will be direct deposited into your account on your next payday. Do you have any questions for me?”

During the question part, you do NOT want to engage much. Many times, one of their questions will be “Why am I getting fired?” and you should have a brief answer already prepared for that question. For example, “As we’ve discussed previously, Jim, there have been issues with you and a few customers, and because of that it is best that we part ways.” 

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Firing an Employee

You’ll notice that my answer is very brief in the Q&A section; remember, you do not want to engage here. You don’t need to tell them how horrible they are, or how much money they have cost the company. One, they don’t care, and two, you’ve already fired them — there’s no need to kick them while they are down.

The script is short and sweet, and that is purposeful. Please don’t drag this script out. Don’t engage in rehashing the decision, or discussing the issues that are causing the person to be fired. You have to be firm here and stand your ground, or this process will be more unpleasant for everyone.

This is one of the most difficult tasks we business owners deal with. Practicing and using the above script will allow both you and your former employee the opportunity to part ways in a manner that is respectful and as painless as possible for both of you, which is as close to the “right” way to fire someone as you can get. 

Related: How to Fire an Employee So You Don't Get Sued

I want to leave you with one last reason why it is important to be respectful in this process. My friends at Infusionsoft say, “All problems are leadership problems.” This means if you are having to fire someone for a performance issue, it is very likely that somewhere in the process you or one of your managers didn’t lead or offer enough training, and that is a least part of the reason your employee is now out of a job. Keep this in mind every time that you have to let someone go, and it should be easier to treat them with kindness and respect. 

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