September 27, 2016

How to terminate employees

How to Terminate an Employee Properly

Have you ever wondered what the best practices to terminate an employee properly are? Well, having to terminate an employee is the lowest of the low psychologically; but doing it properly is a challenge in itself.

Some managers would choose to go through an audit, or digitizing dusty paper records instead of having to let someone go. The entire process can be emotionally draining for both sides of the equation.

But dollars are on the line. Therefore your have to make the hard decisions that are in the best interest of the company atmosphere, the bottom line, and the stakeholders.

The termination quite literally has an effect on the rest of that employee’s life in a financial and career sense. This will be the final impression your company will leave with the employee.

Terminations don’t take place in a bubble either. And the aftermath can have an effect on the organization as a whole in ways a manager with less experience may not fully appreciate. Additionally, if you do not terminate an employee properly lawsuits can happen. It’s important to prepare ahead of time to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Pre-Termination: Being Proactive Over Reactive

The days or weeks leading to a foreseen termination are very important. You should be vigilant of your interaction with the employee and do your legal homework. Therefore. document issues and review the legal aspect to make sure you terminate the employee properly.

“Documentation, Documentation, Documentation.”

Sometimes you have to terminate an employee over an immediate and egregious offense, but it’s not unusual that the termination could be seen from a long way off. Typically the writing was on the wall for weeks, or even months, beforehand.

If the termination is a result of performance issues, document the steps you have taken to mitigate those performance issues. On the other hand, if the termination is a result of behavior (insubordination, breaking company rules, breaking the law, etc), document warnings and reprimands.

Your company will never regret having a strong paper trail. And decisions to terminate must be made on provable facts, not opinions or hearsay. Some organizations learn the hard way that improper record-keeping can cost them in the long run. Don’t make this mistake.

Laws, Contract & Agreements

There are of course laws across the board on how to terminate an employee properly - obviously you cannot fire someone on the grounds of age, gender, race, orientation etc. However, there are laws that exist in specific jurisdictions, and laws specific to the size of your organization. Consult legal counsel.

A vengeful ex-employee can learn very quickly everything they need to know to sue a company by using Google alone. Subsequently, making sure you’re up to snuff is money and time well spent.

Then there is the matter of employment contracts - some situations warrant a severance package (which can be affected if you don't have a paper trail). Similarly, union employees have collective agreements that can come into play and there may be specific procedures that you need to follow.

It’s critical to review all of these contingencies pre-termination. Be prepared for the situation at hand.

Termination: Game Day

To terminate an employee properly, you need to follow the following steps on the day you pull the trigger:

Termination Environment

Plan the environment to minimize employee embarrassment and to preserve dignity. Terminate the employee in person and never over a digital medium. Pick a neutral, private location to deliver the news, with an HR representative  or other manager present. They will come in handy if you have to diffuse an emotional situation.

Create space for emotions to deflate. This is much more important than time of day or the day of the week. Some employees might become angry, some might cry, others might be in shock. Regardless, it’s important to give them an opportunity to save their face in front of their former coworkers.

Take Control and Execute Firmly

Be firm, direct, specific, respectful and brief. Employees need to know exactly what is happening and why. Do not be ambiguous. Do not apologize. Script the speech, deliver the speech, and document the speech.

It is important that you choose words that cannot be twisted after the fact in a way that feeds into a potential wrongful termination lawsuit. In fact, it may be a good idea to have a checklist to make sure all important items are covered in the conversation, and that things are kept on track. Be sure to keep the emotional mood neutral and professional.

Recover all company property

Ask the employee to turn over any company identification, keys, electronic devices, company credit cards and anything else. It’s best to remove any temptation of any retaliatory behavior that may arise. If the employee has a company vehicle, arrange an alternate means for them to return home.

Information Security

Involve I.T. and remove access to any sensitive information. Databases, paper files, network access, email accounts, bank accounts, etc. Not only do you want to avoid any potential for retaliatory behavior, you want to avoid giving the employee an opportunity to remove any potentially incriminating information.

Final Words and Clean up

Have HR accompany the employee while they clear their personal effects, say any goodbyes, and escort them off company property. This doesn't need to be rushed, but should not be drawn out either. Ending employment is a part of professional life, staff will respect this.

Post Termination: Aftermath

To justify your claim of having to terminate an employee properly, follow through with these more important steps.  These will leave a good impression with the former employee and also help his or her dignity.

HR Involvement

Have HR provide any support in areas related to termination of benefits, paying out of vacation time, and applying to employment assistance programs. Final pay typically must be issued immediately - but remember that certain release / buyout documents must be signed before any severance payments are made.

Be Compliant

You documented everything, right? Minds and hearts change. The employee may leave angry but cool down over the weekend. On the other hand, the employee might stew for a few days and concoct a narrative that they can take to a lawyer. Spend the time and effort to make sure you were compliant and you have protected your business.

Do not Burn Bridges

Do make yourself available afterwards if issues arise. This likely won’t be a fun transition for anyone, but it doesn’t have to be a bad one. Remember business is all about relationships, and it’s entirely possible your career will intersect with this individual again.


Terminations are uncomfortable, but keep in mind that the short-term emotions do not override the core responsibility of management to act in the overall best interests of the organization. Use these points as a reference, and role playing can be an excellent way to raise confidence in one’s ability to terminate an employee smoothly. With preparation the impact on the workplace environment and the ex-employee can be minimized.

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Felix Mwania

I live in the intersection of technology and entrepreneurship. I am a technology enthusiast but my passion is helping small businesses succeed, including mine.

When I am not working, you will find me goofing with my wife and kids. When not with family and/or friends, you will find me doing some home improvement projects.

Felix Mwania


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