Commentary & Opinion

The do’s and don’ts of firing an employee

By Jon Hyman

Feb. 11, 2020

Firing people SUCKS. And anyone who tells you that they take pleasure from it shouldn’t be doing it.

It’s the absolute worst part of any manager’s job. Sure, there are exceptions. An employee sexually harasses, or steals, or assaults someone? I’m not feeling badly about their termination. But otherwise, it’s awful having to communicate to someone that they no longer have a job.

The first person I ever fired broke down in tears and begged for another chance (even though he was at least on his third). He earned his termination, and I still felt completely awful about having to tell him.

Kate Bischoff inspired today’s post with her difference of opinion yesterday, blogging that she likes firing people.

Like or dislike, if you’re in management or HR you will have to fire someone eventually. Thus, today I offer five helpful do’s and five helpful don’ts to help ease the pain of the process.

  • DO have the meeting face-to-face, avoiding emails, texts, and tweets, and keep it as professional and respectful as possible. A demonstrated lack of respect is the No. 1 way to guarantee you are sending your soon-to-be-ex-employee to visit an attorney.
  • DON’T fire without a warning. All but the worst employees deserve second chances, and surprises lead to lawsuits.
  • DO ensure your termination is legal. Review employment agreements, vet for compliance with discrimination and other laws and always check with counsel.
  • DON’T let an employee leave with anything of yours (devices, documents, data, or passwords), and prepare an inventory of what they are taking with them to limit future disputes.
  • DO immediately cut off access to systems, and secure all company property and data that the employee might possess (e.g., an employee’s device that you permit to access your network).
  • DON’T fire without a severance agreement, except in the most awful of circumstances (e.g., theft, harassment).
  • DO have a witness for your meeting, and take notes (just in case you have to recount, let’s say for a judge or jury, what happened in the meeting).
  • DON’T proceed unless you have solid documentation to support your decision.
  • DO provide the employee with an honest reason.
  • DON’T make the meeting any longer than necessary, or debate with the employee.
No termination is bulletproof. But, following these simple steps will help keep your ex-employees from haunting you.
Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at

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