How to Fire Without Creating a Firestorm

Hey, manager, I get it. Most of the time, firing someone isn’t a fun and rewarding experience. If they’re a good worker who made a big mistake, or you just don’t need them anymore, it can be downright heartbreaking. But, sooner or later, as a business leader, you will have to let someone go. Here’s how to do it right.

Make it a point to do nothing without witnesses. You might get sued anyway, but you need to have a witness at all times when you are interacting with an employee who is about to or has just been fired. Watch them, and make sure someone else is watching the entire process from start to finish too. It may be uncomfortable at the time, but it’s better to have an unbiased witness to the entire situation than to end up in court with a you said they said scenario.

Set the stage for the eventuality by keeping employee personal items on the job to a minimum. If they can’t be carried out in a single bag or box, it’s too much stuff. Here’s why: when they are leaving, you only want them making one trip. Any more and the potential for an emotionally charged negative incident increases exponentially. Each job will have different regulations about what is or is not permitted, but if they can’t carry it out all at once in a difficult emotional state, you don’t want it coming into work in the first place.

Never draw it out. Pull it off like a Band-Aid. Quick and simple. Don’t beat around the bush or draw out the drama. Yes, it’s tough, but you never make it any easier by being too sensitive about it. That said, you do want to clue them in. Don’t be all smiles and small talk and then just say, “you’re fired.” Warn them with a trigger phrase to let them know things are about to be difficult.

Once you tell them you’re letting them go, make sure they know the decision is final. You don’t have to be harsh, but you should strive to get to the point and make sure they understand this is not up for discussion. If they want to ask questions, that’s fine, but don’t let the conversation become bartering or bantering.

If they ask questions, one will invariably be: “why am I being fired.” You need to have a succinct and specific answer to this. It’s preferable to detail a history of actions or situations leading up to this decision. Again, be direct and very specific.

Following these suggestions can’t guarantee a firing won’t go south, but it will ensure you are well prepared for the difficult task when it arises.

David Firester is an intelligence analyst in NY.

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