5 Common Mistakes When Firing Employees

All the Things NOT to Do When You Let a Worker Go

Avoid the Landmines

Firing someone is generally an unpleasant task no one enjoys. But as hard as it is, some managers unintentionally make it even more difficult.

Whether you’re letting someone go for performance issues or during a round of financially mandated layoffs, you’re going to be in a tough spot. These employees — potentially the same ones you hired yourself — are now being told they’re no longer cutting it and no longer welcome at a place they’ve come to think of as a second home. Firing someone is personal and emotional, but there are certain missteps you can commit that add insult to injury when a clean cut would’ve been gentler and kinder.

Also, mishandling an employee termination can have unexpected and very expensive legal consequences. So here are some things to adding salt to the wound and legal fees to your business.

5. Leaked Information

Sometimes, especially in big companies, news of layoffs leaks in the press and people know job losses are on the horizon. But if you can keep it a secret, you should.

It absolutely destroys morale if news of cuts start trickling through the rank and file without coming from the top. So if you’re a manager, try to keep this under wraps. And by all means, resist the urge to tell someone — even someone you think is trustworthy — about someone else in the company losing a job. In addition to being unfair to the fired employee, it’s also demoralizing to the rest of your workers and makes them wonder if they’ll find out the same way in the future.

4. Not Having a Plan

As with everything else, it pays to be prepared.

Firing someone is a delicate process and one fraught with disaster if you’re not prepared. The person you’re firing is most likely going to be taken aback by this, and certainly will be experiencing sadness, anger, and humiliation. So take that into account by choosing the right time and place. Fridays usually work best as the weekend at least somewhat softens the blow, and it’s better to do the actual firing in a conference room as opposed to the cubicles or your office.

Have all of your ducks in a row. Politely but quickly get to the point, plan out what you want to say, figure out if you’re going to let the employee go to his/her desk then to collect personal belongings or wait until another time, make sure you collect company items such as cell phones, laptops, tablets, and badges, and have a final paycheck ready to present to the employee right then and there. Your efforts beforehand go a long way toward making sure an unpleasant situation goes as smoothly as possible.

3. Not Having Compassion

Look, we understand not all employees are victims of layoffs. Some people you’ll actually be happy to see gone. However, now is not the time to express that particular sentiment.

No matter what the circumstances, treat departing employees with respect and compassion. Failure to do so will not only backfire regarding the terminated employee in question, but it will also raise eyebrows among your remaining staff. Do not drag things out any longer than necessary. And if you have several layoffs to perform, do not treat the situation as if it were a cattle call by dragging everyone into the same room and telling them simultaneously. Each employee being let go deserves some individual attention and respect.

Also, while security should be a concern, it should not be used in a heavy-handed manner. So don’t have people escorted by security for no reason or else they’ll feel like a criminal and the rest of your staff risks feeling like they’re in prison.

2. Don’t Lie

Most of the time, lying is seen as intentionally duplicitous. But when it comes to lies told during employee terminations, that’s not usually the case.

In short, because managers often feel terrible at letting someone go, they tell the proverbial harmless little white lie during the actual termination. For instance, an employee is told he is being let go and begins sobbing and talking about the family he won’t be able to support. He asks why he’s being fired after all this time and wants to know if it’s because of his poor work. As his manager, you know the truth — it is because of his work. But you see no point in piling on so you tell a little fib. You tell him it’s got nothing to do with his work, it’s just a move management has to make. He leaves seemingly feeling better, you certainly feel better, and that’s that.

Except by trying to spare his feelings, you’ve now put yourself and your company in danger. What if that employee tries to claim he was fired due to age discrimination? It’s too late to refer to his poor performance because you’ve already publicly stated the job loss had nothing to do with performance. That’s why despite good intentions, it’s best to just be polite but honest when put in this tough situation.

1. Lack of Documentation

If you learn one thing from this article, make it this: document everything and have it at the ready.

If you want to avoid becoming part of the trend of increased wrongful termination lawsuits, then you need proper documentation. That means when you have serious, repeated issues with employees you need to document in their files. When you put someone on a performance plan, have it all laid out in writing. That way, if you finally fire that employee, you have a trail of documentation to prove your actions are justified. That goes a long way toward protecting you and the company should that employee claim some kind of discrimination in the future.


Once you’ve (professionally and courteously) fired the low-performers, you’re going to need to either fill or create a position. And when that time comes, we can help.