How to Fire an Employee

Employment Termination - How to Fire an Employee

How to Fire an Employee

As a business owner or human resources officer, inevitably, a time will come when you will have to terminate an employee. Firing an employee, no matter how poorly he may have performed or behaved while in your employ, can put you in an awkward situation. Not only do you need to tell the employee, in no uncertain terms, that his employment is being terminated, but you need to do so in a way that preserves his dignity, and protects you and your organization.

By following the steps listed below, you won’t make the termination process more pleasant, but you will hopefully make it less stressful and expensive.

Clearly Define Your Expectations

Ironically, the process of firing an employee should start as soon as he is hired. Obviously, you wouldn’t hire someone with the intention of later dismissing him, but making your expectations clear from the beginning goes a long way toward making an employee termination go smoothly.

By providing new employees with a clear list of expected behaviours and grounds for termination, you reduce the odds of having to terminate anyone, and you make necessary terminations occur more smoothly, as the employees will be aware if they have engaged in activities that are grounds for termination.

Provide Help along the Way

Before you make the decision to fire an employee, you should attempt to correct any negative behaviour that the employee is showing. This can be done through a combination of regular performance reviews and prompt responses to specific actions as they occur. Not only might this help avoid terminating the employee, as his behavior may improve as a result of the discipline or reviews, it might help protect the company from a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Keep Accurate Documentation

Make sure that you clearly and accurately document your attempts at correcting the employee’s behaviours. Record all inappropriate behaviours, missed deadlines, etc., as well as all disciplinary actions and warnings that were issued as a result. These records will be invaluable should the terminated employee attempt to sue you for wrongful termination and you need to show your efforts at rehabilitating the employee.

Don’t Drag it Out

If you have attempted to correct the employee’s failings with no success, do not hesitate to fire him. Delaying the inevitable will only hurt your organization, and cause difficulty for your other employees.

When you are prepared to fire the employee, call him into your office, along with any managerial or human resources staff who may need to be involved in the termination meeting.

Avoid giving the employee too much notice before the meeting. In most cases, the employee will be aware of why you wish to speak to him. There is no point in creating unnecessary stress in the workplace by notifying the employee of the meeting several hours before it is scheduled to occur.

Present Your Case

During the termination meeting, be very clear about the reasons for the termination. At this point, you should go over your records of the employee’s previous poor performance and inappropriate actions, as well as the attempts that were made to help the employee avoid termination. Provide the employee with a formal employment termination letter. Remain professional and calm, even if the employee becomes emotional.

While you cannot control how an employee reacts to being fired, by maintaining your professionalism, you can help prevent a tense situation from turning volatile. Furthermore, by treating the terminated employee in a professional and respectful manner, you will be assuring your remaining employees that they will be treated fairly and respectfully.

This, coupled with your previous attempts to resolve the situation without terminating the employee will help put the remaining employees at ease, knowing that you value your contributions of your employees, and that a termination only occurs when other attempts to resolve a situation have failed.

Give the Appropriate Amount of Notice

Even where you can fire an employee for cause (for inappropriate behavior which they have refused to correct, continual insubordination, sexual harassment of other employees, theft of company property, breach of confidentiality obligations, etc.), it is often easier, less expensive and less stressful for both sides to just terminate the employee without cause by giving the appropriate amount of notice.

Most jurisdictions have a minimum amount of notice that must be given in order to terminate an employee without cause, based on how long the employee has worked for you. Because of this, it is important to be aware of how much notice you may be required to give an employee prior to his termination coming into effect.

If you want the employee to cease his employment immediately, you will likely have to give pay in lieu of notice (i.e.: if you are required to give two weeks notice prior to termination, most jurisdictions will allow you to end the employee’s employment immediately as long as you pay the employee the equivalent of two weeks’ pay, in addition to any other compensation the employee may be entitled to). Whether you will be allowing the employee to work out the remainder of his time with the company, or you will be paying him out should be made clear during the termination meeting.

The amount of notice you are required to give an employee may also depend on the type of work he did for the company. For example, management may be entitled to up to one month’s notice for each year they have worked for the company, while non-managerial staff are typically entitled to one or two weeks per year on the job. Employees who are still in their probationary period are not typically required to be given any notice prior to termination.

If the employee in question has no access to sensitive information, or if you trust that he will not cause harm to your company, you may wish to allow them to work out the notice period, rather than simply paying him in lieu of giving notice. This will allow you time to find a suitable replacement before the fired employee leaves the company, which will help to minimize the loss of productivity that can result from the loss or termination of an employee.

Keep in mind that the above notice periods are only general guidelines and would vary depending u pon the specific jurisdiction and fact situation. If you have any questions as to the correct procedure or the amount of notice, you should refer to your local employment legislation or consult a local attorney before firing any employees.


A termination can be difficult and stressful, both for the employer and the employee. However, if you follow these steps, you can protect yourself and your organization from wrongful termination lawsuits. And, just as important, you will be assuring the remainder of your employees that termination is a last resort, which is handled professionally and respectfully when it does occur.