The Right Way To Fire Someone

Firing an employee is the worst task most managers have. Here’s how to make it slightly less painful.

The Right Way To Fire Someone
[Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images]

One of the least enviable tasks managers and business owners have is firing someone. However, chances are that if you supervise people, you’re eventually going to have to let some of them go—even good employees.


Here are some dos and don’ts from experts.

Create A Paper Trail

While it’s not legally required to create a paper trail documenting the reasons you’re firing the employee, doing so can help you protect the company and you if the terminated employee , says labor, employment, and human resources attorney Charles A. Krugel.

If you’ve tried to help the employee perform better or curb their behavior, note those actions—and be sure to document each event immediately after it has happened for greatest credibility. If you’re going to give employees second chances, it may make sense to give them a third chance, too, depending on the circumstances.

“I think ‘three strikes’ is kind of a rule of thumb,” Krugel says, although that’s more a cultural norm than a hard-and-fast rule. “That’s usually what unemployment comp administrators look at. They seem to look for two warnings and then a third strike and you’re out. However, obviously, that’s going to also be contingent upon the nature of the problem,” he adds.

Take Care Of Housekeeping And Know Your State’s Laws

Different states have different rules and regulations when it comes to terminating employment, says Steven Lindner, PhD, founder of The WorkPlace Group, a recruitment firm. For example, California requires that the employee’s final paycheck be delivered immediately when an employee is fired. The employee may also be entitled to compensation for accrued vacation time, continuation of health insurance coverage, and other accommodations, depending on your company’s policies and the state and federal laws and regulations that apply to your business.


Lindner recommends working with your human resources department or attorney to ensure that you comply with any requirements. In addition, compile a list of any company-owned equipment or data that need to be retrieved from the employee.

Do It In The Middle Of The Week

Have you heard that “sage” advice to fire someone on a Friday afternoon? Don’t do that, says Deanna Arnold, owner of human resources consulting firm Employers Advantage, LLC. “If you do it at the beginning of the week or the middle of the week, it gives people the opportunity to jump back into the job search,” she says. When you fire someone on a Friday, they have all weekend to ruminate over the situation, but can take very little concrete action, such as tapping outplacement services or contacting people in their network, she says.

Stick To The Facts

When you’re doing the actual employment termination, keep it short and fact-based, Krugel says. Don’t defend your actions or get into long explanations. The more you ramble, the greater the likelihood that you could inadvertently say something that could be understood as discriminatory against protected classes, he says. He points to Johnson v. Securitas Security Services USA Inc., a case where a supervisor’s alleged comment to a 76-year-old employee who was fired that it was “time to hang up your Superman cape,” was enough for a terminated employee to state a claim for age discrimination.

Have A Witness

Lindner advises that you always have a second person on hand to act as a witness to the event. That way, if the former employee later alleges any wrongdoing, you have backup to support your side of the story, he says.

Be Humane

In most cases, it’s not necessary to immediately march someone out of the office escorted by a security guard. Of course you need to protect your company, but it’s usually a good idea to give the employee time to gather their things and say goodbye to coworkers.


However, it’s also important to gauge the reason for firing and the temperament of the employee. If you think they will be explosive or exceedingly disruptive, it may be best to handle matters by phone, Krugel advises.

Look For The Lessons

Once you’ve fired the employee, look for any clues in the situation that there are cultural or other issues that may need to be addressed, says Krugel. Once, a member of his team was fired for sexual harassment. Immediately after the termination, he called an employee meeting, reminded his employees that the workplace had zero tolerance for such behavior, and invited any employees who had concerns to discuss them. Your team may need reminders, training, or other support to address issues that arise.

In addition, consider the lessons for hiring employees in the future. Are there questions you should be asking during reference checks or other red flags for which you should be on the lookout? Take the lessons you learned and use them to strengthen your processes.

About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites