Is there a good way to say, 'You're fired?'

Follow procedure, and document the reasons

Jennifer Lawrence

Corridor HR Solutions
Jennifer Lawrence Corridor HR Solutions

You’re fired.

Those words are tough to hear. But firing or laying off an employee also can be one of the more stressful tasks handled by a business owner or supervisor.

“The actual meeting where the employee is informed of the decision can be uncomfortable, but it’s probably the easiest part of it,” said Holly Adams of Holly Adams Consulting in Cedar Rapids.

“The angst or challenges that led up to the decision, and handling the communications after it, tend to be the more poignant areas.”

When an employee is being terminated for cause, such as poor job performance, Adams recommended following established procedures and documenting what led up to the decision to discharge the employee.

“For some organizations, that might be a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, followed by a final written warning,” she said. “Often it is outlined in an employee handbook, so the employer knows what guidelines are followed and the employee would know what to expect.”

When the date and time are set for the employee termination meeting, Adams suggested including another employee — possibly a member of the company’s human resources staff — as a witness.

“There will be different interpretations of what was said, so it is really best for all involved,” she said.


Adams recommended keeping the meeting short and to the point — informing the employee that they are being terminated and this is his or her last day with the company.

She also suggested giving the employee a written statement informing that person of the firing.

“The message that day — even if it is not a surprise — will be overwhelming,” Adams said. “There will be a lot of processing and the employee will have something to look at going forward.

“It’s not just how it’s going to affect the employee. If they are the financial and benefit provider for their family, there likely will be additional questions. A one-page summary of what was said and contact information for a human resources person and phone numbers for all the vendors providing the employee benefits can be really beneficial.”

Using a checklist helps to ensure that all important topics are covered and will help corroborate what was said in the event of future legal action.

When you are telling someone that he or she is fired:

l Don’t say, “I understand how you feel.” You don’t.

l Don’t say, “I know that this hurts right now but later on you’ll realize that this is the best thing that could have happened.” It isn’t. It is a very bad thing.

l Avoid justifications, such as “You should have known.”

l Keep a box of tissues available as the reaction often includes crying.

“That one I learned the hard way and never forgot it after that,” Adams said. “It can really be a life-changing event.

“While the decision to terminate needs to be final, there is no reason why there cannot be some type of empathy for what this person is going through. It is very important.”

When deciding on the date of the termination, Adams suggested avoiding the employee’s birthday or anniversary. And there really is not a best day.


“I understand in the past, we used to do things early in the week,” she said. “Before there was easy access to email and resources, the last thing you wanted to do was send someone home on a Friday afternoon without any access or way to get questions answered until early the following week.

“Now, that’s not necessarily the case with more access to resources.”

Communicating with other employees after someone has been fired also can be a delicate situation.

“Some managers do a better job of this than others, but you have to walk a fine line between protecting the privacy of the person while also explaining the impact of their departure on workload and what that will mean for the team going forward,” she said.

While there are similarities in laying off an employee due to a workforce reduction or downsizing, the impact is the same — they no longer will have a job.

Solid arrangements

“It’s a business decision, but it still feels very personal,” said Jennifer Lawrence, owner of Corridor HR Solutions in Hiawatha. “Even though it was a business decision, the individual needs to feel they were treated with respect and dignity.

“Employers should provide information about severance pay, dates when benefits expire, and information about their last paycheck, including whether any vacation days may be reimbursed.”

After a firing or layoff, the employee should be asked to hand over their key, door pass, badge, smartphone, laptop, tablet, and any other company-owned equipment. If a piece of equipment is located at their home, arrangements should be made for its return.

Make solid arrangements as to when you expect it will be returned. Follow up immediately if you don’t receive the equipment when the employee promised to deliver it.

If they have been leasing or using a company car, keys and key fobs must be surrendered and they will need to make arrangements for someone to take them home.

Adams also recommended a company’s information technology department should be notified in advance that a firing or layoff will occur. Employee access to electronic systems such as email, the company intranet and customer contact forums should be cut off during the termination meeting.


After an employee has been fired or laid off, most employers do not allow them to return to their desk or have contact with fellow employees. While some employers escort a former employee to the door or their car, most make arrangements for personal items to be picked up later — usually after hours or over the weekend.

Lawrence said taking the “high road” when ending a termination or layoff meeting is important. Talking about job searching and suggesting the type of job that might better fit their skills will help end the session on a high note.

If there is a concern about a fired or laid off employee who has anger management issues, Adams recommended calling the local police department in advance of the termination meeting.

Greg Beulow, public information officer with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, said an employer can hire an extra duty officer through the Cedar Rapids Police Protective Association to be present when the meeting takes place.

“That generally costs about $50 an hour,” Beulow said. “The officer is assigned to the company during the human resources process. It is not a service that the police department provides to companies with on-duty officers.”

Should a firing or layoff escalate into a potentially violent situation threatening employee safety, Beulow said an employer can request law-enforcement help.

Firings and layoffs involving employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement or union contract are governed by procedures spelled out in the document. It also governs wages, benefits, payment of dues, management rights and working conditions for union employees.

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