Making Employee Terminations Less Difficult

In my last blog post I talked about corrective action. We explain to managers that corrective action serves two purposes: it gives us documentation and it gives employees the skills they need to enhance work performance and keep their jobs. Unfortunately, the end result is not always better work performance, and we occasionally have to make the painful choice to fire someone. I’ll discuss ways to make the termination procedure a little less challenging in today’s post.


Terminations would be easier if every employee who needed to be fired was like Gob Bluth from Arrested Development. No one would have any qualms about firing Gob. His rare efforts to work for his family’s company usually result in disaster, and he often does little more than collect a paycheck without having done any work. In fact, you would probably feel pretty good firing him.

In real life the decision to fire someone is often difficult. Think of a time a manager called you to talk about an employee who was having repeated work performance issues. As an illustration, the manager describes a scenario with a worker who frequently receives negative customer service complaints. The employee has received coaching from the boss as well as numerous written warnings, including one last one. Everything has failed. The employee’s ranting at a customer is the subject of the most recent complaint. Despite being aware of what must be done, the management finds it difficult to fire the employee. She is a single mother who finds it difficult to cover all of her expenses. She must also rely on the bus because her car recently broke down, which means she must leave for work 45 minutes earlier than usual in order to arrive on time. Sounds recognizable?

You want the employee to succeed and are aware of the many demands on her time outside of work. You had hoped that she would respond favorably to corrective action, but this has not been the case. And to make matters worse, she really yelled at a customer this time. If you don’t let her go, other employees may get the impression that your organization is careless about enforcing rules.

You may be more likely to be sued for wrongful termination if you don’t carry out a termination. It’s crucial to be consistent. How were previously employed workers in a similar situation treated? You should proceed with the termination if it is customary to fire someone in this position. If you don’t, it can be interpreted as discriminating in similar circumstances in the future.


The termination meeting can be very stressful. When I witnessed how hard some employees take hearing they are losing their jobs, I nearly broke down in tears myself. I have handled terminations with supervisors who nearly sobbed during the meeting. Early in my HR career, one of the best pieces of advise I ever received regarding terminations was to keep in mind that it’s not about you.

Recalling our employee with the poor customer service, the boss gave her numerous opportunities to do better, but she still yelled at a client. It is comparable to a teacher telling a student that she did not give him a failing grade because he failed the course by failing to study. The same holds true for an employee who disregards policy despite receiving multiple warnings.

Whatever the employee did to earn a spot in the termination meeting, it’s crucial to be tactful. Be considerate. When giving someone the news that they have been fired, it may seem unusual to advise remaining composed and refraining from focusing on all the things they did wrong. Keep things straightforward, and control your emotions.

Debriefing with the employee’s management after they have departed is a smart move. This is your chance to express your feelings and discuss how you and your partner felt about the dismissal. Even though the termination has nothing to do with you, it might be challenging. Processing your sentiments over the termination is best done through a post-termination debrief.


I have ten years of HR experience and have handled numerous terminations. I’ve always told myself that the day I grow indifferent to layoffs is the day I need to quit HR and look for employment elsewhere. I also share this with the managers I’ve previously worked with. Although it is a challenging aspect of our work, we can make it a little bit simpler by being reliable, thorough, and considerate.

What are some ways that you make the termination process a little less painful?

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.


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