How To: Fire An Employee

There are a lot of people who cringe at the thought of terminating someone.  And when I say terminating – I mean firing.  Not a layoff because, in most cases, employees don’t have control over a layoff decision.  My philosophy is employees play an active role in the decision to get themselves fired.

termination, employee, manager, leadership, hr, human resources

That’s why I never (let me repeat that) never feel bad about terminating an employee.  Because I didn’t tell them to do whatever they did to get themselves terminated.  I didn’t tell them to show up late for work.  I didn’t tell them to surf porn sites on company time.  The employee made the decision to do these things and they have to accept responsibility for their actions.

If management is doing their job, then employees know what is expected of them.  They also know when they aren’t meeting expectations. I’ve had employees shake my hand after being fired. Why? Because they knew it was coming and the conversation was done with dignity. It’s when employees don’t know what’s expected or managers don’t hold employees accountable that discipline and terminations become surprises.  And no one likes those kinds of surprises.

Speaking of management, let me add that I believe it’s the responsibility of an employee’s immediate supervisor to deliver the termination message.  Not human resources.  Now realistically speaking, does someone from HR usually end up in the room while the termination meeting is being conducted…yep.  But the supervisor should say the words, not HR.  It’s really unfortunate when HR has to intervene during a termination conversation (and I’ve had to do it plenty of times) because a supervisor is botching things up.  Managers should be given the proper training to deliver these kinds of tough messages.

I know this message might sound really harsh, but with continued talk about unemployment and skills gaps…I don’t feel bad about holding people accountable.  There are so many qualified, talented people looking for work.

Being disciplined, suspended or even terminated shouldn’t be a surprise.  Encourage managers to set expectations, coach for performance and hold people accountable.  If you do everything you can, then if a termination conversation does take place, you can rest easy knowing that you did everything possible to make the employee successful.

Image courtesy of Nancy Newell [Simutis]


  1. says

    That’s an awesome point, employees plays a big role on getting themselves fired. It wasnt really hard to say these words;”we don’t need your service anymore” or “please collect your things and never come back.” Some employees of ours responded “are you kidding me?!” Because for many times we let things slide like not cleaning up after guests and gossiping about a guest( which is to us an important policy if you’re work in a hair salon to maintain professionalism). I never like pointing out our employees’ shortcomings because I’m not there to be their mother despite the fact that I already counselled them about the issue. But this is what I’ve learned over the few years, is to simply accept the fact that employees aren’t self repairing with their mistakes nor self-motivational. Employees are like cars, if you don’t push the gas pedal, it will not accelerate and you have steer the wheel where you want them to go. But in the end, Sharlyn was right, after all the tools you give them and expectations to succeed, it’s their responsibility to secure their job.
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  2. says

    This reminds me of a manager who wanted to “dump” an employee who was being laid off on HR to deliver the news. The employee should have been terminated for cause months earlier, but management lacked the courage. I reminded the manager that this was a joint effort: he could deliver the news and I’d support him if it got messy.

  3. says

    @Shiela – Thanks for the comment. I believe that’s what is so tough about terminations. We want to give employees some slack. None of us are perfect. But we have to balance it with setting expectations relative to the needs of the business and coaching.

    @Cornelia – I’ve been there too! Thanks for sharing.

  4. says

    I agree – there are situations where employees should be coached and given the opportunity to improve.

    There are also situations where an employee should know the behavior is grounds for immediate termination. For example, I’m not aware of any company that says stealing is okay. If an employee takes something, they should know that’s grounds to get fired. No warning.

    Otherwise it’s like you’ve mentioned – employees should be coached and provided the chance to correct the behavior. Thanks for the comment Riccardo.

  5. says

    I don’t have any mind blowing comment to share other than the fact that I love this article and couldn’t agree with it more. I will be sharing this…

  6. says

    I completely agree. I often say, “I don’t fire people, but rather people fire themselves.” I believe in coaching, mentoring and documenting. If you follow the steps either the employee will step up to the plate and improve or they will eventually be managed out of the Company.