Organizational Wellness

The Proper Way to Fire Employees

Apr 25, 2023
Last Updated May 13, 2024

Having to let an employee go can be painful. After all, at one point they were hired with excitement and made valuable contributions to their team. But, somewhere along the line, something happened. In some cases, the situation can be avoided with a performance improvement plan, yet, sadly, sometimes termination may be the only viable solution. 

Regardless of the reason for letting go of staff, handling this process with care and professionalism is essential. Firing an employee can be difficult for both parties involved, but there are steps you can take to ensure a respectful and smooth dismissal.


General Best Practices For Firing Employees 

Before we dive into the steps to firing an employee, there are a few general best practices to keep in mind. You may want to add these tips to your HR Handbook to ensure that the rest of your department knows how to handle terminating an employee with grace.

  • Consistency: Consistent firing decisions are based on the facts and not influenced by personal bias or favoritism. Effective firing practices should mean you don’t fire one worker for something another employee was not fired for in the past. 
  • Honesty: You can be honest without attacking or making your employee feel worse. In fact, providing specific examples of their shortcomings or performance issues may help them improve in future roles.
  • Privacy: Firing an employee is private and should be carried out without the involvement of other employees. Once you two have parted ways, you can share this with the rest of your staff. To the extent possible, however, keep the details behind the decision to fire this employee private.
  • Respect and compassion: Showing your employee respect and compassion in the face of this bad news can help ease the transition.
  • No surprises: When possible, it’s ideal to give employees ample notice of their termination so they can prepare emotionally and financially for their next steps.

Understand & Follow the Legal Requirements for Firing an Employee

Understanding and following the laws around firing ensures that the process is handled professionally and fairly while protecting your company from legal issues. Your employment contract or employee handbook typically outlines the rules that protect an at-will employee from wrongful termination.

It It is essential to note that all employers must still abide by local, state, and federal laws regarding the termination process. Additionally, some states may have specific regulations related to notice periods or severance pay and other requirements, so it’s important to research these requirements before making a final decision.

Prepare a Plan of Action

The first step in this action plan is to prepare the termination letter outlining the reason for separation and any other essential information, such as when they will receive their last paycheck. The next step is to schedule a conversation with the employee at a time and place that is comfortable and discreet.

Before the conversation, consider taking a few moments to get yourself calm and clear-headed so you can bring your best leadership skills into the room. Planning what you will say beforehand can help ensure you stay on track during the difficult conversation.

If you’re ever unsure of what to include in the paperwork or what to discuss in the termination meeting, consider getting legal advice and consulting another member of your HR department with experience in employee termination.

Have a Private Conversation

During this private conversation with the employee, it’s vital to clearly explain why they are being terminated, provide a copy of the paperwork, and answer any questions they may have. A firm but polite and respectful demeanor can make it easier for the employee to understand the situation. You can also highlight their positive contributions at the company and thank them for their work.

You should consult with your legal department to tailor this script for your specific situation, but here is an example script for firing an employee:

Good morning/afternoon [Employee Name], thank you for meeting with me today. Unfortunately, it is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that your employment at this company will be ending effective immediately.

I am here to answer any questions you have. In addition, I have prepared the necessary paperwork outlining the reason for your termination, including details regarding your severance package. Please take a few moments to read through it and ask me anything.

Once again, I apologize for this challenging situation and thank you for your time at our company.

However you decide to share the news with them, it is crucial to focus on the facts over emotion and judgment. It is also important to document everything discussed during the conversation, so consider taking notes or getting another HR manager to accompany you.

Provide Resources and Support

During this transition period, providing resources and support can help make the process a little easier for the employee. Ensure that they are aware of any unemployment benefits or assistance available to them, such as an employee development department or job search resources. Consider offering outplacement services if you can. 

For example, if your company offers health insurance benefits or retirement plans for this person, it’s vital to follow the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and other applicable regulations. This may include providing employees with a COBRA notice that explains their options for continuing these benefits after they are let go and other ongoing obligations.

Setting Employees Up for Success

In an ideal world, you never have to fire anyone you hire. Ample learning and growth opportunities can help improve their performance. However, in some cases, poor job performance may have more to do with their overall wellbeing rather than what’s going on in the workplace.

Ensuring your employees are taking care of their wellbeing is crucial for their work performance. Consider offering wellness programs like access to gym memberships and mental wellness professionals. There are so many ways you can improve their work-life wellness. And we can speak with you all about them! Contact a Wellbeing Specialist today to learn more.

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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