How to Terminate Your Employee

Tips on Employee Termination

It’s a new year, and the bad news is that if you are going to get fired, laid off or terminated, January is likely the month it’s going to happen.

No one wants to fire employees during the holiday, so most companies wait until the new year to do the dirty deed. In all my years of HR, January is the month when terminations, layoffs, and firings happen most often. If you are a manager who has to do the firing, terminating an employee’s job is among the hardest conversations and work situations you must face.  So let’s talk about ways to make the termination process less uncomfortable for both the manager and employee being terminated.

How you handle a termination can determine how painful the event can be. A manager sets the tone for the termination before it begins. Here are ways to make the best of a bad work situation—or at least less unpleasant—when you have to fire an employee.

If the situation is due to behavior or performance, be sure to:

Have your reasons at hand.

  •  In most cases you need a trail of progressive corrective action.  This means documentation of write ups and conversations with the employee.  You’ll want to make sure to have the materials available if a question arises during the termination meeting.  You might also have to run the termination by HR.  They’ll ask for dates, types of warnings or written documents.  I’m just prepping you for the inevitable.

It’s okay to suspend an employee.

  •  Termination isn’t always the first option when dealing with a termination situation.  If you are not 100 percent certain, suspend the employee and remove them from the situation until you can speak to legal or your human resources department.  Better safe than sorry.

job termination should be the last step in the process. That being said, you should have documentation that clearly outlines performance reviews, attempts to provide training or resources, and other times when the employee lacked in progress. Not a year goes by without having a manager try to fire an employee for performance just a week after giving them an “Oustanding” review.  Your documentation, dates, and information makes it is clear to me and the employee what steps led to the termination. This step while annoying limits your chance for error and saves the company potentially millions in legal fees.

How to Terminate Your Employee

It’s your job as a manager to support, communicate and work with your employees.  It’s also your job to get your job done by meeting quotas as well as individual and personal goals.  This means jumping through hoops and working through the corrective action channels.  As an HR professional, my job is to make sure the manager has documented and trained the employee appropriately while removing the employer from the potentials of lawsuits, grievances, and other liabilities.  Do your job as a manager so, I can better do mine.

Know what you will say ahead of time.

  •  Chances are, the employee knows that he or she is facing termination. A simple, “I’m sorry, but we are going to have to let you go,” is the simplest and best way to approach the termination. I like to follow up with the straight forward approach, “We’ve talked to you on <insert dates and offenses here>.  Your performance hasn’t improved.  Today is your last day with Company X.” Just stay professional and to the point, because no platitudes you offer will interest the person being fired anyway.

Don’t argue about it.

  • This is a professional conversation.  As the manager, keeping cool is your only course of action unless you want to be on the receiving end of the termination meeting.  The employee being fired may want to argue, but don’t get sucked in. Be certain about the decision and have your documentation ready.

Have someone else in the room as a witness.

  •  If the cause for termination or the employee is especially tricky, having a witness can keep an employee from coming back and accusing you of something you didn’t do.

If you have to let go of employees due to a layoff situation, then:

Act as quickly as possible.


  • Don’t let employees worry or speculate. Rumors about layoffs can ruin morale, so if you know a layoff is coming, set up individual meetings as soon as possible.

Be sure you know the law.

  •  If an employee feels wronged, lawsuits are sure to follow. Be well-versed in employment law and do things by the numbers. Employment laws in states differ especially when it comes to things like immediate pay out and benefits.

Be prepared to answer their questions.

  •  Being laid off can be traumatic, and your employees deserve to have as much information available to them as possible about severance packages, why the lay offs are happening and why they were chosen. Be prepared to answer those questions or provide information for them in a layoff or termination packet.

Provide support where you can.

  •  Being laid off means a severe setback in a person’s career and life. As a manager, you can help in these trying times. Help with the transition by offering to references, write a recommendation letter or make contact with an employment agency.

Treat people with dignity.

  •  Being terminated or laid off is one of the hardest things a person has to face.  It’s jolting and often times demoralizing. Be respectful and understand that people are going to be upset when they are laid off. Never lose your temper, even if they do. On the flip side, don’t escort out employees like they are criminals. Be compassionate to what they are going through.

Consider social media.

  •  In the olden days before mobile phones and social media, you could deliver the bad news over the course of days to different managers at various facilities.  We no longer have that luxury.  Factor in technology when determining your layoff or termination plan.  Consider setting up a phone call instead of talking to the employee in person or hold a group meeting if the layoffs are effecting a large group of people.  Nothing is worse than finding out about your downsizing on the internet or via text.

These tips will help you make the best of a terrible situation. Just remember to be honest, be clear and be respectful. One of these days, it may happen to you too.

Share your stories!

Have you been fired or laid off? What was your experience like? Don’t be afraid to share, we are all let go, fired, or laid off at one point in our life.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Rob says

    I was one of those that received the glowing performance review and then a week later was fired. Can’t say I was surprised though, as my boss was just straight up awful and was just scapegoating me due to the company’s poor performance. It’s just tough trying to explain that in an interview without making it look like I’m putting the blame on others…

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says


      This type of situations and terminations drive me crazy. Often times the failure is a crappy manager who is looking to pass the blame and buck. Terminating someone this way is a short term fix to just a crappy manager. Corporate careers are made using that strategy. I’ve been managed by more than my share of crappy managers who are hanging on by their fingernails ready to stab you in the back if it benefits them.

      Thanks for your comment. Sorry you got the boot, but you didn’t want to work with that guy or gal in the first place.


      • Rob says

        I was already looking to get out when it happened (I knew my first day that my boss was insane). I moved 12 hours away to take this job, got the axe four months into the job and it’s been almost three months since then. I’m just trying to find my way since then and I’ll almost do anything for a paycheck now… 🙁

  2. Ian Spinney says

    How you react to being dismissed is crucial. I know this from both sides of the desk:
    1. I was made redundant from my first job. It was a customer service role . The General Manager came to announce that the office was being closed. When he finished speaking, I answered a customer call in my normal cheerful helpful way, inspite of the shock. The manager was so impressed, he offered me a job at another office until I could find permanent work.
    2. More recently, as an HR Manager, I sacked someone in his probationary period. I didn’t want to sack him, and indeed I wanted to extend his probationary period to give him another opportunity to prove himself. However, he was so angry and persistent that I eventually threatened to call the police, to make him leave the premises. His reaction only served to confirm to me that it was right to sack him, for the sake of his work colleagues and the business. There is no way that I would ever consider employing that man again or recommend him to anyone else.
    So my advice to anyone being dismissed is to try hard to keep your cool, keep positive, and try not to show your anger or distress – Ask for a good reference, negotiate your final package, leave graciously, and start looking for other work or take legal advice on whether you have been unfairly dismissed. You will have a better chance of finding other work or winning an unfair dismissal case if you deal with the situation using a calm business approach. Good luck, whichever side of the desk you are on!

  3. Bart says

    “Help with the transition by offering to references, write a recommendation letter or make contact with an employment agency.”

    So-so advice but, I know legal beagles would frown on giving out recommendations ~ anyways most of these documents are lame (have you ever seen a poor recommendation?) so the value plus the legal flak should be enough reason to skip this step.

    Dignity is key word with goal of redirecting severed employee to focus on new job and not angry against the employer. If possible contract professional outplacement services and in any case contact the States’ department of employment security so that they can provide help at no cost to the employer.

    Going the extra yard to resolve small problems with empathy can make all the difference in the setting the stage and tone.

  4. Kim says

    I’m a bit confused about why you talk so much about having ducks in a row and making sure you have every thing documented so it is clear to HR AND the employee. Most states are “at-will” states, so you need no reason to fire someone. While this feels unfair and wrong to the terminated employee , being fired , and not for cause is perfectly legal, unless for a few very specific reasons. Most lawyers will tell a client, that they should not peruse a case, because it will be expensive and while you are right that it is unfair and wrong, the law says they can do it.
    Having just “been there and done that” I would have loved to sue for wrongful termination, but it would be an expensive folly, which I would lose. It is a natural reaction to strike back when you are angry and hurt. What I really wanted was a cause, a reason, an explanation. Now I just have a bad taste in my mouth, and a nagging question as to what I could have done that led to this.

  5. Annie says

    I know this is an older thread, but I stumbled upon it and had a question. I was terminated after working for my employer 5 months into my 6 month probationary period. It came as white a shock to me, since I had never once received any negative feedback from them in the 5 months that I was there. In fact, when I asked how my performance was, I was always told I was going well. When they terminated me, they totally lied and said that they felt I was not performing up to par and then changed direction when I question why I wasn’t coached/notified of this before. After I questioned them, they then said that they felt I just wasn’t a “right fit” for the job.
    My Question is, do I need to include this short stint on my resume or when applying for other jobs? I have never been terminated ever from an employer before. And, I just don’t think it’s fair to allow this five month long job to blemish my work history. Since I was only there a short time, do I need to include this employer at all on future applications?



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