How to Fire an Employee Gracefully in 5 Steps

Learning how to fire an employee gracefully is critical to protect current employees’ moral. Every manager agrees that firing employees is the worst part of their job. However, terminating an under-performing employee is better than keeping them on. Often, it is kinder for the employee too; it allows them to go onto better things.


Before firing an employee, consult with an attorney to ensure you do not put your company at risk for legal action. Every situation for firing an employee is unique. This article is for general information. We invite you to read our Disclaimer page.


Understanding how to fire an employee gracefully may also protect the safety and well being of your other employees. When an employee commits an egregious wrong, they must be immediately terminated.


While firing employees will never be easier or more enjoyable, knowing how to fire an employee, gracefully will ensure the process goes smoothly. Here are 5 tips on how to fire employees gracefully.

1.   Be Clear With Your Employee

Beating around the bush will help no one; your employee needs to know that you are firing them. Be clear but compassionate, both when hiring employees and firing employees.


Being clear with employees when you hire them will ensure your employees know exactly what is expected of them. It will also ensure that they know what will happen if they do not perform. Have a clear job description when recruiting and discuss the job description and your expectations in the interview. Ensuring you hire the right people will mean you reduce the number of employees you have to terminate.


When you terminate an employee, you need to tell them right away that it is a termination meeting and they are being fired. Do not make any awkward small talk or try to subtly tell them they are fired. Answer their questions about the next steps and provide them with any necessary paperwork.

2.   Protect the Employee’s Dignity

There is no need to humiliate your employees; being fired is difficult enough in the first place. Always fire employees in private, ideally in a conference room. Public firings are bad for the rest of your employees too; it can affect morale and cause anxiety about whether they might be next.


If possible, fire the employee after all other employees leave. This means they have privacy to pack their things and don’t need to run into their colleagues.


There should be only two people from the company in the room with the employee being fired, the person doing the firing, and a representative from the HR department or your business lawyer. You need to have a witness if the employee files a lawsuit. The witness can attest that you behaved ethically and followed company policy.


If there is a chance the employee may become violent or aggressive, consider having security or police outside the room. If the employee is being fired for violence or threats of violence in the workplace, then this will be necessary. Similarly, if the employee has martial arts or boxing training, and you have reason to suspect they might become violent, it is better to be safe than sorry.

3.   Make Sure Your Actions Are Legal

Pay attention to any employment contracts and state and federal laws about terminating employees. Never fire an employee as an act of discrimination or deviate from a termination policy as an act of discrimination. It is best to consult an attorney before firing an employee to ensure the matter is handled legally.


If your employee’s contract stipulates reasons why employees may be fired, you cannot fire them for any reason not mentioned in their contract.

4.   The Termination Should Not Come As a Surprise

If an employee is being terminated for cause, they should have received warnings and a discipline process before they are fired. Sometimes, if an employee seriously violates policy, they may be fired without warnings or performance reviews.


It is good practice to give twice yearly, or more frequent performance reviews do your employees know what they are doing well and where they need to improve. You can identify areas that need additional training and praise employees for doing well. Most of all, employees can be made aware of any behavior that violates company policy that might cause termination if not improved.


You must give employees a chance to improve before you fire them because it is better for your business if their behavior improves. However, if their behavior doesn’t improve, at least you have written records of the guidance and opportunities to change you provided. If the employee decides to sue, this will be evidence that they were not wrongfully terminated.


If your employee does not improve and you have written records of warnings and training, then do not delay firing them. Under performing employees can be costly to your business and workplace morale. Once you have decided to fire an employee, get HR or your business attorney to review the decision and then schedule a meeting.

5. Tell Your Employees

You may need to tell employees that you let their colleague go, they might need to cover some of their duties until you hire. However, do not detail the reasons why they were fired as that can leave you open for legal action. Remain professional at all times and only advise employees who need to know about the termination.