How to Terminate an Employee Professionally

Updated September 14, 2022

When you're in an executive position, you may have to let go of employees from time to time. Knowing how to terminate an employee professionally and ethically is important. It makes the termination more efficient and ensures the employee understands why they're being terminated. In this article, we discuss reasons for terminating an employee, how to fire someone professionally, and what to avoid during the termination.

Related: What It Means To Be Laid Off vs. Fired and What To Do Next

Reasons to terminate an employee

If you dismiss an employee, you must have a specific reason. Terminations typically occur when an employee is performing poorly at work. Ensure your reason for terminating an employee complies with federal, provincial and territorial laws; otherwise, your company could face legal challenges. Here are some common grounds for terminating an employee:

  • Poor performance at work

  • Issues with attendance or tardiness

  • Violence or threats against employees or customers

  • Company reorganization

  • Poor personality fit with the company

Related: Understanding What it Means to be Terminated For Cause

How to terminate an employee

The steps you can follow when terminating employees vary considerably by company, but here are some things to consider:

1. Document issues and warnings before the termination

Before you approach an employee about termination, have documented proof that supports your reason for terminating them. For example, if the employee frequently arrives late to work, get a copy of their timesheet to highlight their tardiness. If they have threatened their colleagues, collect statements from those employees explaining the situation.

Talk to other supervisors or managers that work with that employee to see if they have any supporting evidence. Any written warnings or poor performance reviews are also good to collect. Having proof of their poor performance and your attempts to support them makes it easier to make your final decision. It also allows you to show the employee exactly why they're being let go.

Related: What Is Wrongful Termination? (Definition and Examples)

2. Prepare a termination document

You may need to prepare a termination document depending on your company's policies. This document highlights the details regarding the employee's termination, such as their last day, final paycheque, unused vacation days and any other next steps they need to take.

In the termination meeting, you need to review this document with the employee and have them sign it to ensure they understand. Make two copies, one for the employee and one to keep in their personnel file.

Related: How To Write a Termination Letter With Template

3. Schedule a meeting in a private location

Once you have all the documentation in order, schedule a meeting with the employee. Hold the meeting in a private location, such as your office or a boardroom, to avoid interruptions or anyone hearing sensitive information. Always have a witness when terminating someone, such as a member of the human resources team. Having a witness is good for both parties. It allows the employee to receive fair and equal treatment and protects you if they accuse you of doing otherwise.

4. Hold the termination meeting at the end of the day

When scheduling the meeting, ensure it's at the end of the day. This generally means fewer people around, avoiding unnecessary questions or gossip from other employees. It also ensures the employee won't need to continue their workday after being terminated.

5. Use a checklist

Your company may already have a termination checklist you can follow during the meeting to ensure you cover everything. If they don't, create one yourself. Think of everything you need to discuss and turn it into steps you can follow. For example, step one can be "discuss the reason for termination," while step two is "go over the termination document with the employee."

A checklist also allows you to document what you discuss during the meeting. This is helpful for filling out any paperwork afterwards or updating your manager.

6. Explain the reason for the termination

In a termination meeting, you first need to tell the employee what the meeting is about. Explain that you're terminating their position and discuss the reasons. Give as many details as you can by mentioning specific reasons, and also try to keep your explanation concise to give the employee a chance to talk.

Related: Top Reasons for Being Fired from Your Job by an Employer

7. Listen to what they have to say

Once you've explained, the employee may react in shock, denial, anger or grief. Offer them a minute or two to process the information, then give them the opportunity to talk. Actively listen to what they say about their feelings and ensure the employee knows your decision is final. Be firm with your decision.

8. Allow them to ask questions

Encourage the employee to ask questions if they need to. You want to ensure they fully understand the reason they're being terminated and the next steps they need to take. Be honest when answering their questions but try to avoid a heated argument or debate.

Related: How To Write an Appeal Letter (With Example and Template)

9. Collect any company property

If you give your employees any company property, such as a work phone, collect it in this meeting. If the items are in another place, such as tools, schedule a time to have the employee drop them off, usually when they pick up their final paycheque. Ensure you collect any ID cards or security access as well. You may need to escort the employee out after the meeting.

10. Thank them for their contribution

End the meeting on a positive note by thanking the employee for their contributions. It shows the employee that you respect and value their time with the company. Wish them well in their future endeavours and shake their hand before they depart.

Related: A Complete Guide to the Company Restructuring Process

11. Change security information

Once they leave, complete the paperwork and consider changing any security information the employee had access to. For example, change any door codes, computer logins, or other passwords as a precaution. Some employees feel bitter after termination and consider acting maliciously against the company, so it's best to take action first to prevent this from happening.

Related: What Is Severance Pay in Canada?

Things to avoid when terminating an employee

Knowing what to avoid during a termination meeting is an important part of ensuring the meeting is effective and professional. Here are some things to avoid when terminating an employee:

Avoid terminating an employee until you meet face-to-face

While it may be quicker, terminating an employee over the phone or via email can be unprofessional. You want to give the employee the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting since it shows you respect them and their contributions. If you work remotely and are without the option to have a face-to-face meeting, schedule a video call instead.

Avoid making it a long conversation

When terminating an employee, keep the conversation as brief as possible. Prepare a summary that mentions a few reasons you're firing them so they understand and can't argue your decision. After giving the employee a chance to talk and ask questions, thank them, and end the meeting. Keeping the conversation brief reduces negativity, allowing the employee to keep their dignity.

Avoid acting without warning

Blindsiding your employees with a termination they weren't expecting can damage your relationship with the employees that are staying. Instead, provide regular performance reviews and coaching to give employees a chance to improve. If they continue to perform poorly, these performance reviews act as proof that you gave the employee a chance and proper warnings, limiting the chance of a potential lawsuit.

Related: What Is a Layoff Letter? (With Template and Examples)

Avoid giving them access to their workspace or coworkers

Some employees may feel hurt or angry after termination, so it's best to have them avoid their workspace or coworkers after the meeting. Instead, arrange a time for the employee to pick up their personal belongings when their team members are absent. This allows them to keep their dignity and avoids potential conflict.

Avoid ending the meeting with negativity

Regardless of how upset the employee is, try to avoid ending the meeting negatively. Compliment their positive skills and attributes to improve their confidence. Offer encouragement and tell them they'll find a position that's a better fit for them in the future. Ending the meeting this way can make the employee feel better since it lets them know you still respect them.

Related: What to Do After Being Laid Off (With Tips and Definitions)

Avoid giving them access to the company's electronic systems

Before the meeting, terminate the employee's access to your company's electronic systems, such as their email account or company login. Limiting their access can prevent them from accessing sensitive information or communicating with your other employees. Be sure your IT department has removed their access beforehand.

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