HR Management & Compliance

Tips for Firing Gracefully

Firing someone is never a pleasant task, but it’s something that occasionally must be done. Let’s take a look at a few tips for doing it gracefully, legally, and safely.


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Firing Someone Gracefully

Here are a few tips for handling the situation as gracefully and tactfully as possible:

  • Train everyone involved in the termination on de-escalation techniques in case a conversation gets heated.
  • Have a plan for what will be said, and try to stay as close to it as possible. If faced with accusations, remain calm. Give specific reasons for the termination, and end the conversation.
  • The termination meeting should not be the first time an employee hears about performance issues, except in rare circumstances when a situation arises without warning that results in termination. When there are problems, bring them up in a timely way, and give the employee the opportunity to correct them before it reaches the point of termination. Once it does, it should not be a surprise.
  • Be prepared regarding the various termination logistics: information about final pay, continuation of benefits when applicable, etc.
  • Be empathetic during the conversation. No matter the cause, the loss of a job is usually a big change for the person experiencing it, even if it was expected.
  • Allow the individual to speak his or her views and ask questions, but keep the conversation on topic if it strays, and be clear that it’s not a decision that is up for debate or argument.
  • In an ideal world, the employee would have been receiving feedback all along, so when it comes time to move on, it will simply be the logical step, not one that is fraught or unexpected. In this case, the people who work with the employee should have been working on the issue or issues to try to resolve them, as well as working on a role that could be a better fit. If those attempts fail, it may make the most sense to then move on.
  • Communicate to remaining staff about the situation as quickly as possible. Don’t disclose anything confidential or defamatory, but do be clear in the communications to discourage guessing and gossiping about what might have happened. If the firing was an isolated incident, be sure to say so to ensure others don’t think they’re next. Even if there have been no layoff discussions, rumors can start if there isn’t adequate communication.
  • Communicate your reference policy to the terminated employee, whatever it is. Be consistent in this policy and in administering it.
  • When utilizing a severance package, communicate about it clearly, and have a written copy for both parties to sign. In an ideal world, a severance package is an opportunity to thank employees for trying their best for the organization and a way to continue on good terms even after the termination.

Firing Someone Legally

While this is not a comprehensive list, of course, keep these legal tips in mind, as well:

  • No matter what the reason for the termination, have documentation to back it up.
  • Have a clear, written policy about whether the organization will give references for outgoing employees. Be clear with remaining employees that they’re subject to this from the other side—they should not be providing references if the policy is not to do so.

Firing Someone Safely

Sometimes, these conversations are awkward. Reduce the risk of problems with these tips:

  • Consider having security staff (if you employ security in general) assist with escorting a newly terminated employee from the building.
  • Plan in advance for the logistics of the termination in terms of access to buildings, software, and any company property or programs. Be sure to have a way to retrieve confidential information.
  • Always have a neutral witness in the room during a termination discussion.

What has your experience been? What would you add to these tips?

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.