Phrases for Firing an Employee

If you have decided to let an employee go, you may have covered your basis in terms of talking to HR and documenting your evidence. Now it’s time for the difficult conversation. What should you say and do you know the phrases for firing an employee? Who needs to be in the room with the two of you? How do you tell your team?

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.

Firing an employee is difficult for both parties. You need to conduct the termination professionally and protect the rights of the business and employee. Most people working in HR will agree that firing people is the worst part of their job. Many employers will just avoid firing employees altogether.

Keeping an under performing employee is worse for your business than firing them. Other employees might get annoyed at an employee who is not pulling their weight and see their work as undervalued. When employees are being paid the same wages, but one is not putting in the same effort, other employees can get demotivated and resent the company. As unpleasant as firing someone may be, it is best to deal with the problem swiftly.

Terminations must be held with professionalism, tact, and dignity.

Dos and Don’ts When Firing an Employee


    • Consult HR to oversee the process and answer any questions that may arise
    • Show compassion for the employee you are firing. Offer to serve as a reference for them for any future jobs
    • Give your team the news in person but keep the reasons for the decision private


    • Delay a termination; often the cost will be greater than letting them go
    • Waffle, keep your points brief and to the point. Be compassionate but do not be ambiguous
    • Leave HR to do the dirty work. Answer any questions the fired employee may have

Terminations Shouldn’t Surprise an Employee, with Exceptions

There should be a disciplinary process that you go through before firing an employee. Therefore, termination should not come as a surprise because they have been warned about poor behavior or performance and had time to fix it. Alternatively, they may have violated a company policy in a serious manner to warrant immediate dismissal.

Takeovers or revenue loss should be the only reason for a surprise termination.

Prepare for a Termination Meeting

A termination meeting should last no longer than 20 minutes. The goal of these meetings is to collect any company property they have and give the employee any information they may need. While it is important to be compassionate, your employee can turn to friends and family for sympathy.

What Do You Need to Take to a Termination Meeting?


Ensure you have the right materials at the termination meeting. This will help it to go smoothly and avoid dragging it out longer than necessary.

Sometimes, you might present a formal letter of termination to the employee. It must notify the employee of their termination and outline the reason you are letting them go. Keep it brief and don’t go into details. Anything written in this may be used against you if the employee files for unemployment benefits or sues for wrongful termination. You need not provide a written letter of termination.

You can notify an employee if you will provide a reference for their future jobs. You may provide a good review if you believe the employee is just not suited to your team. Alternatively, you may provide a neutral reference to confirm job title and dates of employment. If there was a significant policy violation, you might decline to give a reference.


If the employee was covered under a health plan, you need to provide a COBRA notification. This notification will include:

  • Details of when their coverage will cease
  • When they will need to start making payments
  • The rate of their health coverage
  • Where they can send payments and how long they can continue their benefits

Company Property

You should have a standardized checklist of equipment an employee may possess. Run through it with the employee and ensure all company property is returned before they leave the building. Things that should be on the checklist include:

  • Uniforms
  • Keys
  • Equipment
  • Tools
  • Passwords
  • Computer equipment
  • Materials
  • Any other company property

Severance Pay

Severance pay is not a requirement when terminating an employee. However, it is something that may be offered in return for something from the employee. Most companies offer severance packages in return for a waiver against future claims or lawsuits. Consult an employment lawyer to create a legally sound contract as the legislature can be complex.

How to Schedule a Termination Meeting

Many employers will notify an employee in the morning about a meeting with HR at the end of the day. This is cruel as your employee will be nervous and dreading the meeting all day. It can also cause disruption to their team, and they are likely to be unproductive.

Instead, collect them at the time of the meeting or ask their manager to bring them to HR at the scheduled time. Rather than creating a buildup for the meeting, you are ripping the bandage off and managing a difficult situation kindly.

What Should I Say in a Termination Meeting?

You should conduct a termination meeting in private.

Stay professional at all time and do not strip the employee of their dignity. Because they will have gone through a disciplinary procedure, they will know why they are being let go. You only need to tell them the reason for your decision, not offload grievances. It may be helpful to briefly mention the policy their infractions broke. Remember, it is a business decision, not personal.

Let the employee know from the beginning of the meeting they are being let go. Do not sugar coat it; you need there to be no ambiguity.

The employee will have questions, and you should answer them to the best of your ability. However, be firm that the decision has been made and it is not negotiable. Going into too much detail or answering too many questions can be harmful to your business. This meeting provides them with the paperwork they need and retrieve company property.

Detail their rights under COBRA and provide them with the necessary paperwork to terminate employment. After the meeting, tell the employee that they can contact you with further questions.

Sample Script: Termination for Cause

“John Doe, today is your last day at ABC company. You have received multiple warnings about being late to work and notified that continued tardiness would result in dismissal. Here is your COBRA notification, please read through it now so I can answer any questions you may have. After that, we will collect company property. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.”

Sample Script: Termination at Will

Jane Doe, today is your last day at ABC company. We are terminating your employment at will. Here is your COBRA notification, please read through it now so I can answer any questions you may have. After that, we will collect company property. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.”

What Should I Not Say in a Termination Meeting?

Keep your tone business-like and professional. While it is important to remain professional, do not assume blame or apologize. Do not say “This is really hard for me.”

Do not say “Let’s discuss that,” as that opens up the issue to negotiation. In a for-cause termination, the employee had plenty of chances to correct their behavior and didn’t. They should not be surprised by the termination.

Never negotiate; it is too late for an employee to promise to change or offer alternative solutions. Be firm in your decision and express that it is not up for negotiation. Letting an employee negotiate will only humiliate them. Express that your decision is final and move on with the rest of the meeting.

Never compare the employees to other employees. If your employee is in a protected class, this will ensure a wrongful termination or discrimination lawsuit. Avoid all references to an employee’s qualities, character, or personality.

Do not say “I’m sorry this is happening” it is unhelpful and opens the door for negotiation.

Finalizing a Termination Meeting

Once the meeting is over, the employee must go and collect their belongings. If you think there will be a problem, you can accompany an employee and escort them from the premises. It may be best to standardize this practice and accompany all employees through this process. This shows similar treatment for everyone, regardless of their job position. It will also prevent unexpected problems from occurring.

Your role in a termination meeting is to get them through the meeting with their dignity intact. Ensure the transition is professional and allow them to leave straight away so they can seek support from their friends and family.