How To Fire An Employee

It’s never easy to let an employee go, and there are a myriad of reasons you might have to do so.

To help you with this complicated task, we’re going to look at how to fire an employee.

While firing an employee is difficult, every boss and startup owner will face this heavy task.

It’s often full of emotions. Some managers can distance themselves and deal with the termination in a matter of fact manner, while others may struggle with the emotional aspects.

Compounding the problem is making sure you’re doing it by the books. Most owners and managers will worry about how to avoid a lawsuit.

So, let’s look at how to fire an employee.

Be Sure It’s Appropriate

Before making the gut-wrenching decision to terminate your employee, make sure it’s the appropriate decision.

You want to make sure you’ve thought through the process and documented everything. Firing your employee should be the last step in a careful process unless their behavior warranted an immediate termination.

For example, let’s say your employee’s performance is lacking, and they are always late.

Before firing this employee, you should have weeks of documentation as well as progress reports. Before deciding to fire your employee, it would be wise to provide them feedback and a warning as well as an action plan for making changes.

If your employee doesn’t follow through, then you have grounds for termination.

It Shouldn’t Be a Surprise

In the above example, you have an employee who is consistently late to work. You warn him, you provide him feedback, and you help him create a plan to change his behavior.

He doesn’t follow through, and you terminate him. At this point, your employee should have known that if he didn’t comply, he would be fired. In other words, he shouldn’t be surprised.

This applies to employees who are let go as well. If you are reorganizing or downsizing, your employee should have ample warning that they are going to lose their job.

The firing process goes more smoothly when the process is open and transparent.

Document Everything and Know the Law

Your company is most likely protected by an at-will law. This allows you to fire an employee for no reason.

An at-will employee can be fired at any time as well except in cases of discrimination, when they’ve complained about an illegal activity, discrimination or harassment or about health and safety violations. They also cannot be fired for taking family or medical leave, serving in the military or taking time off to vote or serve on a jury.

Be familiar with state and federal laws. Know when you can and cannot fire a person.

When it comes to the actual firing, you should have created a paper trail from the first incident to the last. Note dates, times and actions. Use written warnings and document performance reviews. Make sure your employee signs and dates them.

Remember that just because you hire at-will, that doesn’t mean your employee can’t file a wrongful termination lawsuit. Documenting everything serves to protect you in case this happens.


Use the Right Words

When firing an employee, be brief and use only facts. Don’t make it personal and don’t get emotional.

Be as professional as possible and don’t play the blame game.

In our digital world, your words can come back to you, so be clear, distinct and above board.

Consider A Severance

There will be hard feelings when you fire an employee. Consider some type of severance package to minimize the blow.

If you have an HR department, let them handle this as well as the exit paperwork. They won’t be quite the enemy you are.

If you don’t have HR, have your office manager sit in with you to help with the details.

Final Thoughts

It never gets any easier to fire an employee. But, you can make the process cleaner and more professional by being prepared, having documentation and warning the employee well in advance of the repercussions of his behavior.

Now that we’ve talked about how to fire an employee, you may be wondering about the most common causes of employee termination.

You can use these items as a guide when deciding whether or not to provide your employee with feedback, put them on probation or fire them.

  1. Dishonesty or lack of integrity is the top reason people get fired. You want employees who are honest and trustworthy. Employees who cheat on time cards or expense reports or otherwise steal from the company are most likely to be terminated on the spot.
  2. Lying is one thing most business owners won’t tolerate. This is especially true if you find out your new employee lied on their resume or lied to a customer.
  3. Insubordination is another reason employees are fired. If an employee consistently refuses to follow directions, orders and protocol, this is grounds for termination.
  4. Employees who are inconsistent cause problems for employers and often end up losing their jobs. Inconsistency may show up in their work or in their attendance. For example, if they are absent a lot and without good reason, they might lose their job.
  5. An inability to do the job or work with others is another reason people get fired.
  6. Drug and alcohol abuse is another cause of termination. Employers walk a fine line here, and this usually happens when treatment options don’t work.

With more than 55,000 people either laid off or fired each month in the United States, you want to make sure you are doing it right. Firing an employee is never easy, but make sure you follow procedure when you have to do it.

What are your experiences with firing an employee? Any tips to make it easier? comment below to share your tips with others.