10 Things to Never Say When You Fire an Employee

If you are the boss, the hardest thing you have to do is to lay off an outstanding employee because of lack of work because that means you failed them. The second hardest task is to fire an employee. When you fire an employee, you should have two goals in mind:

1. Treat the employee with respect, and 2. Protect your business from a legal aspect.

As the boss, firing someone is hard to do. For the employee, being fired is financially and emotionally devastating. So let’s make sure you don’t make a bad situation worse by saying:

1. “This is really hard for me…” Who cares? The employee doesn’t. Firing employees is part of the job. Any time you talk about how difficult the situation is for you the employee thinks, “Oh yeah? What about me? How hard do you think this makes me fee?” If you feel bad talk it over later with someone you trust, such as an HR Consultant.

 2. “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.” You’re not a sports team firing its coach. You’re not holding a press conference. Save the cliché’s, don’t leave the employee wondering. If you’ve done your job right the employee already knows why he’s being fired. State the reason for your decision as clearly and concisely as possible or just say, “Jane, I have to let you go.”

3. “I’ll have to get with HR to figure out…” Firing is both an ending and the start of another process for the employee: Returning company property, collecting personal items, determining what happens with benefits, etc. It’s your job to know how all that works ahead of time. Getting fired is bad enough; sitting in limbo while you figure out the next steps is humiliating for an employee who wants nothing more than to leave so they can cling to whatever dignity remains. Know your stuff and never make an employee wait to meet with others who are part of the process.

4. “Compared to Joe, you just aren’t cutting it.” Never compare employees when you fire an individual. Simply state the cause is a failure to meet standards or behavioural expectations. Drawing comparisons between employees makes it possible for what should be an objective decision to turn into a deep black hole you’ll find incredibly difficult to escape.

5. “I disagree with you, and here’s why…” Some employees plead, most are quiet, and a few argue. Never let yourself be dragged into a back-and-forth discussion. Just say, “Jane, I’ll be happy to talk about this as long as you like, but you should understand that nothing we discuss will change the decision.” Arguing or even “discussing” almost always makes the employee feel worse and could open you up to potential legal issues. Be professional, be empathetic, and stick to the facts. And don’t feel the need to respond if an employee starts to vent. Just listen!

6. “Fine, if it makes you feel better, I’ll go get my boss.” Occasionally an employee will want to discuss things with someone above you. Never open that door. Firing is final and you have the last word.

7. “You’re a good employee… but we have to cut staffing.” If you’re downsizing, leave performance out and just say so. But what if you’re not actually downsizing and you’re hiding behind an excuse so the conversation is easier for you? Then you do the employee a disservice and you open your business up to potential problems, especially if you later hire someone to fill the open slot. Don’t try to protect the employee’s feelings. Just be honest.

8. “I know you weren’t happy here; you know… this could work out for the best in the long run.” Possibly so but it’s not your place to judge. For the employee there is no silver lining to be found in the “You’re fired,” at least not at first. Let the employee figure things out for themselves.

9. “I need to walk you to the door.” Say, “Jane, go ahead and gather up your personal belongings.” Observe Jane collecting their things and escort them quietly to the door. She’ll know why and won’t argue.

10. “We.” The word “we” is appropriate in almost every setting, but not this one. If you are the person firing the employee, say, “I.” At this moment you are the company. Take responsibility and do not say “If there is anything I can do for you, just let me know.” You should say, “If you have any questions about benefits, final pay checks, or other details, call me. I’ll make sure you get the answers you need.

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