In the firing line: How to dismiss an employee


How you part company with an employee makes all the difference between a good break-up and a bad break-up. If you’re Donald Trump, you probably don’t care one way or the other, but for most HR professionals, this is an unenviable task. Handled well, parting company with an employee can mean good word-of-mouth for the organisation. Handled poorly, and you could be looking at an unfair dismissal case.

Here is some advice for HR managers on how to handle a difficult situation with compassion, that leaves everyone with dignity.

1. Always have a dismissal conversation in person and in private.

Bring a witness, usually the individual’s direct manager. Face-to-face is the honest approach; email or letter is the coward’s way out. Make the meeting fairly short – this isn’t intended to be a conversation. But follow up with written information about exiting the organisation, as often the employee is too distracted to take in relevant details.

2. Prepare what you are going to say without reading from a script.

It’s important to be consistent. Ensure you have specific, well-established company policies and stick to them. One of the most common reasons for an employee to claim unfair dismissal is that they were made to feel as though they were treated unfairly or differently from others. Consistency is the best defence against claims of discrimination.

3. Compassion when firing someone is also important.

Depending on the situation, you might frame the conversation in terms of the employee’s skills not being a good fit for the organisation. Lauren Bacon has some good advice on her website. She suggests something along these lines: “The company needs _______ right now, and that doesn’t seem to be your strong suit” or “We’ve made several attempts to get you up-to-speed on ______, but we’re not seeing the progress we’d hoped for.” Explain how you arrived at your decision, and infuse the whole thing with kindness by letting them know that you’re sincerely sorry it hasn’t worked out. However, if someone is dismissed because of poor performance, the decision should be supported by documentation including written warnings.

4. Consider timing.

Firing someone at the end of the day allows them to pack up and leave without too many awkward questions. It’s less dramatic as everyone else is leaving the office, too. Firing someone in the morning when everyone else is arriving and making coffee isn’t great, but at least they might not feel cheated, having put in a full day’s work without knowing they were going to be dismissed. Middle of the day might be an option as lunchtime sees people coming and going.

Opinion is divided on which day of the week is the best. Friday has the advantage in allowing the employee to recover. They wouldn’t expect to be working the next day anyway, so it doesn’t seem like such a shock. But it also means they have the weekend to stew. If they get their notice on a Monday, it gives them an opportunity to immediately network and start looking for a new job.
The important thing is not to wait until the situation has become toxic. Once a decision has been made to terminate employment, following correct legal processes, act swiftly. If you don’t, the impression on employees that remain is that the company is cowardly or inept or both.

6. Think ahead to post-employment.

Let the employee know their options in terms of severance policies, health care and career counselling, if the company provides those. Offer support and follow-up with written information about exiting the organisation, as often the employee is too distracted to take in relevant details. They may wish to come back outside of office hours and empty their desk, for example. Aim to comply as much as you can to make this a dignified exit that reflects well on you and the company.

7. Be gentle.

Always keep in mind that this is harder for them than it is for you.

We recommend that you seek legal counsel before terminating an employee’s contract. 

AHRI professional members are automatically protected by AHRI ProCover insurance for activities undertaken in the course of doing their job. For more information, click here

Have to dismiss an employee or employees due to redundancy? Click here for six questions you should ask before making an employee redundant. 

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In the firing line: How to dismiss an employee


How you part company with an employee makes all the difference between a good break-up and a bad break-up. If you’re Donald Trump, you probably don’t care one way or the other, but for most HR professionals, this is an unenviable task. Handled well, parting company with an employee can mean good word-of-mouth for the organisation. Handled poorly, and you could be looking at an unfair dismissal case.

Here is some advice for HR managers on how to handle a difficult situation with compassion, that leaves everyone with dignity.

1. Always have a dismissal conversation in person and in private.

Bring a witness, usually the individual’s direct manager. Face-to-face is the honest approach; email or letter is the coward’s way out. Make the meeting fairly short – this isn’t intended to be a conversation. But follow up with written information about exiting the organisation, as often the employee is too distracted to take in relevant details.

2. Prepare what you are going to say without reading from a script.

It’s important to be consistent. Ensure you have specific, well-established company policies and stick to them. One of the most common reasons for an employee to claim unfair dismissal is that they were made to feel as though they were treated unfairly or differently from others. Consistency is the best defence against claims of discrimination.

3. Compassion when firing someone is also important.

Depending on the situation, you might frame the conversation in terms of the employee’s skills not being a good fit for the organisation. Lauren Bacon has some good advice on her website. She suggests something along these lines: “The company needs _______ right now, and that doesn’t seem to be your strong suit” or “We’ve made several attempts to get you up-to-speed on ______, but we’re not seeing the progress we’d hoped for.” Explain how you arrived at your decision, and infuse the whole thing with kindness by letting them know that you’re sincerely sorry it hasn’t worked out. However, if someone is dismissed because of poor performance, the decision should be supported by documentation including written warnings.

4. Consider timing.

Firing someone at the end of the day allows them to pack up and leave without too many awkward questions. It’s less dramatic as everyone else is leaving the office, too. Firing someone in the morning when everyone else is arriving and making coffee isn’t great, but at least they might not feel cheated, having put in a full day’s work without knowing they were going to be dismissed. Middle of the day might be an option as lunchtime sees people coming and going.

Opinion is divided on which day of the week is the best. Friday has the advantage in allowing the employee to recover. They wouldn’t expect to be working the next day anyway, so it doesn’t seem like such a shock. But it also means they have the weekend to stew. If they get their notice on a Monday, it gives them an opportunity to immediately network and start looking for a new job.
The important thing is not to wait until the situation has become toxic. Once a decision has been made to terminate employment, following correct legal processes, act swiftly. If you don’t, the impression on employees that remain is that the company is cowardly or inept or both.

6. Think ahead to post-employment.

Let the employee know their options in terms of severance policies, health care and career counselling, if the company provides those. Offer support and follow-up with written information about exiting the organisation, as often the employee is too distracted to take in relevant details. They may wish to come back outside of office hours and empty their desk, for example. Aim to comply as much as you can to make this a dignified exit that reflects well on you and the company.

7. Be gentle.

Always keep in mind that this is harder for them than it is for you.

We recommend that you seek legal counsel before terminating an employee’s contract. 

AHRI professional members are automatically protected by AHRI ProCover insurance for activities undertaken in the course of doing their job. For more information, click here

Have to dismiss an employee or employees due to redundancy? Click here for six questions you should ask before making an employee redundant. 

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