The Right Way to Fire Someone

Whether you're giving or receiving the message, the firing process isn't fun for anyone. 

Unfortunately, firing is a necessary evil. As a manager, you have to keep in mind the good of the business, your clients, and the rest of the team. 

Keeping a poor performer is a disservice to your entire organization. 

Low standards are infections and bring down the engagement and motivation of other team members and give your company a bad name with clients. 

Action taken against low performance raises the team's standards, helping managers meet business objectives and ensures clients get the value they deserve. 

Firing makes sense from a business perspective and is in the best interest of both the individual and your organization. 

No matter how right the choice is, navigating the process of firing is never easy.

Below I've created a guide to firing a problem performer the right way, starting from knowing when it's time to fire someone to announcing a poor performer's termination to the rest of the team. 

In this article, I will share with you: 

✔️ Signs it's Time to Fire an Employee

️✔️ The Emotionally Intelligent Way to Fire an Employee 

✔️  Legal Considerations for Firing an Employee 

✔️  How to Announce Someone Has Been Fired

Signs it’s Time to Fire an Employee

Every manager will come across employees who are difficult to manage in their career. 

👉 Read, How to Deal with a Difficult Employee as a New Manager.  

However, some employees are impossible to manage and have to be let go for the team's benefit and the business. 

But how do you know when it's time to let go of someone? 🤔

Start with a reflection on employee performance. 

Firstly, if you're already thinking of firing someone, that's a bad sign. Take some time to ask yourself a few questions and gather data before making any hasty decisions.   

The firing process is a big decision and should not be taken lightly. 

Start by asking yourself what role the individual plays in your organization and its future success. Think about your perfect team and see if this person is on it. Ask yourself if you would hire this person for the position they currently hold if they were a candidate. Finally, if this team member told you they were leaving, would you fight it? 

After some reflection, you will also want to gather hard data. 

Next, find the root of the problem. 

Now that you've had time to reflect on this employee's performance, consider if anything else could be causing their poor performance. 

Did they receive enough training? Do they lack supervision? Do they have clear task instructions? 

Perhaps the business's needs have changed, and this employee is no longer the right fit, or maybe the employee isn't developmentally ready to meet the new tasks of the job. 

You can also talk to the employee's colleagues to gain further insight into their poor performance. Ask for observation of this employee's work from others and get some specific examples. You want to get a good perspective on the situation. 

Think about where the employee fits on a sliding scale.

For example, if this person has ten goals but is performing poorly in two, then their career at your company might have a fighting chance. However, if they're performing poorly on most of their tasks, then it sounds like it's time to go a different direction. 

Finally, remember to be transparent with the problem team member. 

Don't make any decisions about firing the problem performer without having a conversation with them first. 

As a manager, you need to keep your employees aware of their performance and identify concerns early to prevent termination. 

If you haven't been transparent with this employee before, start now. 

Tell them you're noticing they're missing targets, and ask them to reflect on the reason.

In their answer to why they’re missing their targets, does this employee own the problem? Do they admit to their mistake and have the initiative to come up with a solution? Or, are they defensive and blaming others for their problems? 

Regardless, you'll want to give the employee a chance to improve their performance before firing them without warning.

If the employee can’t pull up their socks then it’s time for you to go shoe shopping. 

👉 Use this performance review by Unicorn Labs to help you assess your employees performance as you decide whether it’s time to let them go. 

The Emotionally Intelligent Way to Fire an Employee 

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills you can have as a manager, and it can help you navigate even the most difficult of conversations, including employee termination. 

👉 Read, A Manager's Guide to Improving Emotional Intelligence at work for actionable steps you can take to improve your EQ. 

When it comes to firing someone, it's essential that you be understanding and compassionate.

Don't be afraid to take feedback from your employee as this is a valuable viewpoint on your own management skills.  


Be prepared to listen to many lengthy defences and give the employee a chance to express themselves as the closure is essential. But, always make sure the decision of their termination remains clear.

Ensure that you're respectful of the employee. Don't ridicule or humiliate them and make sure the conversation is private and away from others.

Legal Considerations for Firing an Employee 

If termination conversations weren't hard enough already, there are also important legal considerations to keep in mind. 

Always having a representative present is an essential part of the firing process in case the employee comes back at you with a lawsuit.

A witness can confirm you were legal and ethical in your actions. 

Try to have someone from the HR department present, a trusted colleague of yours, or your business's lawyer. 

You also want to ensure your actions are legal. If the employee signed a contract, you can't fire them unless they violated the contract's terms. 

If they didn't sign a contract, you could terminate their employment at any time.

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind for legality purposes: 

Don't let them take company property.

Do ensure they no longer have access to business systems.  

Don't allow the employee access to the former office area or coworker.  

Do have prepared documentation at the meeting.

How to Announce Someone Has Been Fired 

Once the firing process is over, you must also inform the rest of your team. 

You will want to be direct and straightforward and avoid adding details as this can start a gossip-fest. 

Having a script beforehand might come in hand, such as the one offered by Knight from HBR depicted below: 

"As some of you may know, person X is no longer a part of our organization. I will not go into details because this is confidential information, and I want to ensure Person X's privacy. If you have suggestions about how to minimize the impact of Person X's absence, let me know."  

This script is professional, concise, shuts down rumours, and gives employees a chance for feedback. 

In Conclusion 

After you decide it's time to fire someone, it's crucial that you remain professional throughout the entire firing process. 

Using your emotional intelligence (EQ) skills as you fire someone will help make this hard conversation much smoother because you are able to navigate the conversation with compassion and understanding. 

Always be prepared for legal considerations when firing someone and don't infringe on the employee's rights. 

Be transparent with your team and let them know their colleague has been fired, but ensure that you are discrete and private about the details.

Finally, focus on the future after employee termination. Be sure to have a strategy read for dealing with the workload as you find a replacement, and remember that this will be a short term problem. 

Starting fresh with a new employee will be an exciting time for your team, so use the momentum to keep moving forward in a positive direction. 

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