How to fire effectively

How to Fire Someone Effectively

Let’s face it, when unemployment hovers around 4%, most organizations are hesitant to let any teammate go. However, even when it’s hard to find good help, employees still underperform, violate policies and show up with bad attitudes which means that companies need to do what’s good for business – shed the dead weight and upgrade. For readers who need to be motivated to execute on the uncomfortable, read on for tips to do it effectively.


Evaluate and investigate the situation. The worst thing that can happen to anyone is to lose their job. Of course, they got themselves to this point and you didn’t do it to them, but it’s good practice to ensure the situation is given a fair shake. You can do this by gathering appropriate facts about the situation, looking at past practice, understanding associated policies, interviewing the employee in question to thoroughly understand their perspective, then make the final decision to terminate. Even if you think you know the answer is termination, following a judicious and well-documented process will save you a headache if you ever must defend the company against a DOL or EEOC wrongful termination charge.

Get ready for the termination meeting, both mentally and tactically.  Figure out who will be in the room and what their role in the conversation will be. Discuss how you will call the employee in, how discreet you’re trying to be (think, location and timing), what documentation will you present and what the talking points are to cover in the meeting. You will also need to determine if a termination letter will be delivered, when the person will be paid their final paycheck and how you plan to have them collect personal items.

Anticipate how the conversation could play out. Who are you dealing with? Have tissues in the room if you believe the termination will shock or upset the person. As the deliverer of bad news, sit near the door in case an emergency exit is necessary. Alert authorities if you think the person may exhibit a temper (they’ll quietly hang around the area).


Use empathy but be assertive. Get to the point and the punchline. No one wants to have small talk when they know the tone of the conversation they’re walking into is serious. Do not allow for any dysfunctional delivery; you’re prepared for this. Don’t allow people to bargain with you about “why?” You’ve already done the research and decided, so de-charge the conversation; don’t rush through it and act panicked. This isn’t about you. Do not try to be so empathetic that you come across as soft and you leave the person wondering if they really got fired. Avoid arguing and don’t feed into any emotions that the terminated employee displays.

Walk the person to the door and watch them leave the premises.  Sadly, we live in a world where disgruntled, terminated employees may turn to workplace violence to settle the score. Take note of the terminated employees’ license plate and make/model of the car so you can report it to authorities in the event they come back to the work site or someone’s home.


Shut off all workplace communications from terminated employee immediately. Even the loveliest of people want revenge after being fired. Have a plan to turn the email off immediately so they don’t blast off an email to clients or colleagues.  Ensure their work cell phone is returned or if they can keep it, watch the person delete email and other workplace apps from the phone before they leave the building.

Maintain discretion and confidentiality. Treat the person with dignity after they leave. For future employment verifications, provide dates of employment and positions held. By divulging more than that about a terminated employee, you’re opening the company and yourself up to defamation of character claims. When an announcement goes out to pertinent distribution lists, keep it simple “XYZ had their last day at Company today. We wish them well in future endeavors.” Cold? Maybe. CYA – definitely.

Talk to key employees and customers.  Ensure excellent communications after the termination with key employees and key client accounts so that everyone maintains confidence in their relationship with the business. You want to confirm with clients that their account is covered, and you want the team to know their contributions are, as always, valued. Retention of both clients and employees is the name of the game after a termination, so communicate with these groups right away.

Have a plan for reallocating job responsibilities. Even if you plan to backfill the person, you need to have an interim plan to keep customers happy and work moving forward. Schedule time with the inheritor of duties to happen on the same day as the termination to explain the temporary or permanent nature of the new job requirements. Some retraining/ training may be necessary to ensure this person feels confident and will not let you down themselves!

If firing or restructuring seems overwhelming, consider a partnership with a firm that employs HR experts, like Leath HR Group. We help businesses execute legal terminations with dignity and respect throughout the process.

Lisa Leath, SHRM-SCP is the President of Leath HR Group.  She is a strategic HR leader with clients across industries, from start-ups to $100M+ in annual revenue.  Before starting the business in 2017, she was VP, Human Resources at an international pharmaceutical organization with 7 global locations.  Prior to that, she spent 8 years with a Fortune 300 manufacturing company at multiple plants in Employee Relations and HR leadership roles.  Her first job out of Penn State was in NYC, where she worked in HR at a large intellectual property law firm. No matter the business or industry, the approach to her career has remained consistent – stay on the cutting edge of benchmarked best practices, then tailor “next practice” HR solutions to specific industries and situations. She has a reputation for building great processes and strategic direction for demanding clients. Lisa is a Senior Certified Professional through the Society of Human Resource Management.

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