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How to Fire Someone…Includes A Script

I’ve had to fire or let go a handful of people in my career. Firing someone can be tough, but if you follow these guidlines you should do just fine.

Here are my learnings:

It's Ok to Fire Someone (Fairly)

It's Ok to Fire Someone (Fairly)

Make The Decision Fast

The adage, “Fire Fast, Hire Slowly” is very true.

On the firing side, I have never regretted firing someone who was a consistent problem. On the flip side, I have often regretted moving too slowly on firing someone.

If your gut tells you that a person isn’t working out, you owe it to your business and the employee in question to move fast.

Clarify The Reason You’re Firing Them

You need to identify the reason that you’re firing your employee (for yourself first; and then later to explain to the employee). It could be for performance..or it could be that they did not fit into your culture.

Whatever the case, have it well-thought out for yourself and have specifics (examples or data) to back you up.

Document The Reason You’re Firing Them

You should make sure that you or the hiring manager document the reasons for the termination before the actual firing.

The most common way to do this is in a performance review (also called a Performance Appraisal) in which you share your feedback with the employee in question.

I should write an entire article on Performance Reviews…but in the meantime, check out Performance Appraisal for more background.

The most important point is that the employee should not be surprised that they are not working out…and the details of this should be documented so that if the terminated employee ever tries to to sue you for Wrongful Termination, you will have written details to show a hudge.

Determine Their Last Day

Now that you’ve decided to be decisive (good for you!), you should determine when you’d like the person to leave.

If the person you’re firing has done something crooked, you may be choosing for their last day to be immediate.

In most cases, the person you’re firing is just not performing to your standards or is not a good fit with your culture or values. In that case, I try to be consistent with all employees by using a standard amount of notice (2 weeks, 30 days, 2 months, etc.); though this may vary based on how long they’ve been with you or what their seniority is.

If you don’t have a standard, then use your next firing to determine your standard (so that this is easier on you in the future!).

If your company is small, like many I’ve worked in, it’s ok for you to learn as you go!

Determine Their Final Deliverables

Figure out exactly what you need from them between the time you fire them and their last day.

I prefer to make this list a fairly short list of deliverables to allow the fired employee to have some extra time to search for a job.

Determine Their Severance (if any)

Next you need to determine what severance payment if any you will pay them.

Again, this should be consistent where possible. There should be a minimum severance package for an employee who had just recently joined the company (i.e. less than a year) and there can be extra severance based on longevity and seniority.

For example, some companies pay a minimum severance of 1 or 2 weeks to anyone they let go and then an additional week of severance for each additional period they’ve been there (e.g. an extra week of severance for every year they’ve been at the company)).

Your industry may play by different rules so you should ask around.

And, again, if you don’t have a standard set of severance packages yet, that’s ok — you can use your next firing or two to establish one.

The point is to be standard/consistent so that this will be easier for you in the future.

What to Say When Firing Someone (Write a Firing Script)

Now we’re getting closer to having to actually fire the person. This is a very important conversation and I urge you to write out a script of what you’re going to say.

Here’s a script that I used to fire Cooper (don’t worry, I’ve never fired a real Cooper before):

1. “Cooper, this isn’t working out between us.”

2. “The primary reason is [fill this in with the reason(s) that you already identified above] “E.g.: “Cooper, the reason this isn’t working out is that we believe we need a more experienced person in your position to help us reach our objectives.”

3. “We value you immensely, Coop (list all his contributions and really make him feel loved).”

4. “And what we’d like to do is give you time to figure out your transition.” (This is optional based on when you determined their Last Day (see above) to be).

5. “Since we know it’s easier to find a job while still an employee, you can remain a paid employee until [fill in the date (see above)] ”

6. “Between now and [fill in the date], we ask that you complete the following deliverables, and you can feel free to use your remaining time as “flex time” to search for a job.

7. “We’ll do our best in supporting whatever next job you get.” (e.g. You say you’ll be willing to act as a reference (assuming you see some positive things in the person) or at least will confirm that they worked at your company)).

Dress Rehearsal

I recommend you practice the script with a fellow executive, your manager or a mentor.  Do a dry run-through together — it will make you much more comfortable with the difficult conversation you’re about to have.

Really dig into what Cooper’s pain point is going to be regarding his imminent employment termination. It may be that he is driven by some extra money (i.e. severance) or it it may be that it’s very important for him to save face.

The Actual Firing

Ok, now comes the part you probably fear the most (I did too): You have to tell the employee that he or she is out of here.

Here’s what I do:

  • Follow the Script — I go through the script (see above) step by step from memory (I keep the bullets in front of me on a notepad just in case)
  • Listen — After going through the script, I sit back and do nothing but listen. It is very likely that Cooper is now going to begin experiencing the “5 Stages of Loss” (especially the first three or four):
    • Denial — Cooper may deny the reasons that you give him for termination
    • Anger — Cooper may become angry either at you or someone else in your organization who he tries to blame
    • Bargaining/Negotiation — Cooper may begin to negotiate (i.e. offering to take another position or lower pay, etc.)
    • Depression — Cooper will likely experience this most after the meeting is over
    • Acceptance — Cooper will eventually accept the decision
  • Stay Firm — Cooper may argue that it’s an unfair termination — stick with your script and decision. Don’t send mixed signals.
  • Be Compassionate — This is going to be hard for Cooper, so show compassion.
  • Be Respectful — Treat Cooper with the utmost respect, regardless of the circumstances — Take the high road!

Most of the time, Cooper will eventually accept the decision; though he may try to bargain a bit in which case you should be open to exceptions to any of the terms you outlined if Cooper makes a strong case). But if you’ve done your homework, your Severance and Timing will have been fair and Cooper will accept it.

Other Things To Consider

  • Getting Cooper to Sign a Release — Get the person you’ve fired to agree that they accept the Severance terms along with their Final Deliverables and what their last day of employment (this can be in print or even email is fine).
  • Termination Letter (aka Notice of Termination) — Cooper may ask you for a termination letter…you should give it to him with the basics mentioned in the 7 Steps above (keep it short and to the point).
  • Communicating that the Employee is Leaving — If Cooper is managing people, you may consider allowing Cooper to communicate his departure to his team (to save face); Otherwise, it will Cooper’s manager’s responsibility to communicate Cooper’s departure to team members (keep the message simple and tell others they can contact you directly if you have specific questions).
  • The Threat of a Wrongful Termination (or Unlawful Termination) Suit — If you have followed all the steps and have documentation of the situation, it is rare that Cooper will sue you. If he does, you will be prepared with documentation to get a fair hearing.

A final reminder that I can’t emphasize enough: Deal with the issue swiftly.

You owe it to your company, yourself and Cooper to be decisive.  Plus, the sooner you act the more flexibility you have in helping Cooper on his way (and the more money and headaches you save everyone).

And if  you want to minimize the number of people you fire, please read You Must Topgrade.

If you have questions not covered in this article, please comment below (it can be anonymous).

2 Comments

  • http://www.easynegotiationtechniques.com Peter Quinn

    Hi. I am a long time reader. I wanted to say that I like your blog and the layout.

    Peter Quinn

  • http://www.techniquesinterview.co.uk interview techniques

    Firing an employee requires step by step processes. 
    It should be followed or else your company may be sued.