6 Helpful Tips for Terminating an Employee Ethically and Gracefully


In the life of a business owner, there usually comes a time when you’ll need to fire someone. If you’ve done this before, you know it’s a terrible experience for everyone involved. Still, this is something you can’t get around. Making necessary cuts and weeding out unproductive employees is an essential part of ensuring your business can grow.


That said, the fact you have to fire someone doesn’t mean you can’t do it gracefully. Here are six tips for terminating an employee the right way.


  1. Don’t Surprise Them


Before firing an employee, let them know they’re not performing well. If you’re firing them over poor performance, you may even consider giving them a chance to improve first. For instance, doing performance reviews will give employees tips on where they can do better. If they don’t improve, the documentation will at least make sure they aren’t surprised by the firing.


  1. Do It In Person


As long as your safety and logistics permit it, you should always fire an employee in person. Having the courage to look an employee in the eye and explain why you’re firing them is a key factor in learning how to fire people ethically. For best results, allow the person a bit of privacy by choosing a place away from other employees.


  1. Keep It Brief


The prospect of firing an employee you’ve worked with for years is daunting. Still, don’t let the gravity of the situation delay the conversation. Lead with the punchline, state the reason for their termination, and make sure to use past tense to preclude any arguments about a second chance. If they try to argue, try not to get caught up in responding.


  1. Show Compassion


Yes, it’s possible to keep things brief while still showing some compassion to the employee. As difficult as firing someone is on you, the person getting fired will have it much worse. If you think their talents can be of use elsewhere, offer to provide a reference or make introductions. Also, schedule this conversation for the end of the workday to make things easier for them.


  1. Have a Witness


When firing someone, it can be a good idea to have a neutral third party in the room. If you’re a woman, that third party should be a man, and vice versa. That way, you’re getting ahead of any potential allegations of harassment or discrimination. If you don’t have a witness, draw up a brief outline of what occurred in the meeting after the fact.


  1. Tell the Team


Once you fire an employee, the rest of your team will want to know what happened. Address the matter directly, but don’t reveal the exact reasons behind your decision. If you suspect other people will start worrying about their own job security, let them know that this was an isolated incident and that your company isn’t eliminating roles.