How to Gracefully Fire & Terminate an Employee

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiesersehen, Good-Bye!

No one wants to do it, but as sure as death and taxes, if you’re in HR, you will have to fire someone some day. You can call it anything you warn, whether it’s termination, firing, letting someone go, it still sucks. No one wants to be fired, and certainly no wants to fire someone else (at least I hope none of you enjoy terminations). While a termination will never be pleasant, you can take certain actions to, not only, make things easier but also reduce the risk of problems down the road.

Protect Yourself with these 3 Termination Tips

Be Nice

Remember, this is going to be one of, if not the, worst day of your soon-to-be-former emoloyee’s job. I (and Patrick Swayze) have said this before, and I will keep saying it: be nice. I don’t care if you and the employee didn’t get along while they were employed, this isn’t the time to gloat about your “victory.” If you must, you can feel free to feel superior later that night while enjoying an adult beverage. Similarly, no matter what the employee says to you, be nice. Even if they get angry, even if they insult you, stay calm and be nice. If you need security to escort the ex-employee from the premises, that’s fine, but be nice about it.

Stay on Script

Just as important as being nice, you should always have a script and stick to it. Each situation will be different, and thus will require different approaches. Your script should explain that the employee is being terminated, but not provide a great deal of detail. Too much detail could provide grounds for a lawsuit, so be careful. The classic “It’s just not a good fit” is a classic for a reason. Make sure you give the ex-employee information on COBRA and any other benefit information they may need. Additionally, it would be a good time to go over your reference policy, if you have one, since they will be looking for a new job and in need of references.

Severance Agreements are Your Friend

While severance agreements aren’t always required, they can provide extra protection with “at-risk” terminations. If the ex-employee is in a protected class, or if an outsider may perceive some questionable motive behind the termination, then a severance agreement may be in your best interest. Using severance agreements as protection for lawsuits isn’t anything new, but they can be used for other reasons as well. For example, you can use a severance agreement where the separation occurred because the employee was placed into a position they weren’t ready for or the employee was hired for a position that is no longer needed. The severance agreement can be used to help transition an employee who lost their Jon through little or no fault of their own.

Do you have a horror story when firing an employee? Let us know!

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Casey Sipe

Casey is a management-side labor and employment attorney with Caldwell & Kearns in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he writes a labor and employment law blog, The Employer's Lawyer. He loves technology, social media, soccer and bow ties. Connect with Casey.


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