Firing Sucks: What You Owe to the People You Lay Off

[This article was written by Dawn Castell.]

One of the hardest parts of owning a business or being in management is firing employees. In many cases, you’ll have to fire people you like – and you may even have to do so when that person is a great employee in hard economic times. There are important steps you need to follow when firing employees, each of which not only makes the process easier on your employee but helps to ensure that you cover your bases as an employer. You owe your employees more than you might think when you fire them – and the things you owe them aren’t always tangible.


It is natural to try to avoid hurting the feelings of an employee. Unfortunately, firing someone is naturally unpleasant. While being nice is a good thing, it’s even more important to be honest. Don’t try to make small talk in the meeting or make statements that can be misconstrued. When you fire an employee, let him or her know that he or she is being fired, why he or she is being fired, and ultimately what to expect next. Honesty is a virtue, even when the truth delivered is unpleasant.


Being fired is disorienting. You walk into work one day with a job and realize that you’ll be unemployed on the next. As such, it is very important that you deliver the information your employee needs to know in a precise manner. While it might not necessarily cross your mind, it’s important to remember that terminating employment can be terribly imprecise. You should let the employee know when his or her last day is, when his or her benefits run out, and even when he or she can collect his or her paycheck. Provide as much relevant information as possible so that your former employee can make a plan for the future.


The two factors above largely come down to the third factor, respect. No matter what the reason is that the employee is being fired, it is your job to provide him or her with at least a bit of dignity. This means avoiding public firings and always making sure you terminate an employee face to face. Treating people with dignity goes a long way, especially when you’re doing something as potentially life-changing as firing someone. While you cannot force an employee to respond in a dignified manner, you can set the stage to make things as conflict-free as possible.


This is a tricky requirement because there is really only so much help you can give an employee after he or she has been terminated. You certainly don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are promising things that you can’t give. Instead, give the former employee access to resources like outplacement services if at all possible. If the employee is a good worker who is being let go for reasons outside of your control, it may also be appropriate to let the employee know that you will provide a reference for his or her next employment opportunity.

When you fire an employee, you owe him or her honesty, precision, respect, and help. While you might not be able to plan on how an employee will act to the news of being let go, you can plan for your responsibilities in the matter. If you can conduct yourself professionally, you’ll find that firing someone will never become pleasant but that you might find a way to make it easier on your employees. This is an unpleasant part of the job, but you owe it to all of your employees to learn how to do it correctly.




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