The Do’s and Don’ts of Employee Termination

December 20, 2019

Almost every manager is familiar with the dreaded termination meeting. It’s almost never easy–or simple–to let an employee go. Sometimes, though, termination is the best option for both parties involved. After all, no one benefits from a strained work-relationship.

However, when it comes time to terminate an employee, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Moreover, companies are required to follow strict state and federal protocols to protect themselves from fines and/or lawsuits.

So, without further ado, here’s what NOT to do during a termination meeting:

  1. Do not blindside the employee. Like with any relationship, communication is key. Immediate termination, without warning or any indication of an issue, can leave your (former) employee feeling blindsided, especially if he or she is under the impression that all is well. Try nipping the issue in the bud before it grows into something bigger. Sit down with said employee, address your concerns, and see if you can resolve them together. If the issue persists, it will be clear to both parties that termination is required. (Of course, certain offenses, like theft, intoxication, or harassment, merit immediate termination and should be treated differently.)
  2. Do not make excuses or apologize. People know when they’re not getting the truth. Vague reasoning for terminating an employee, or sugar coating the issue isn’t doing anyone any favors. In fact, oftentimes, the more direct the reasoning, the easier it is to accept. You may even be doing the employee a favor by exposing a weakness that they can then work on. The easiest way to stay firm is to hold the conversation in a private room, start off with an indication that your decision is final, and stick to the same reasoning throughout.
  3. Do not fail to understand at-will employment. At-will employment refers to a non-contractual employer-employee relationship. In simple terms, either party can terminate the relationship at any time, allowing for greater flexibility but less security. However, it is still prohibited to terminate an employee for their race, age, gender, religion, disability, veteran status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and/or citizenship. This kind of discrimination can result in lawsuits or heavy fines. Therefore, to terminate an employee in one of these protected classes, it’s best to have a documented reason so that you can prove that the termination wasn’t discriminatory.

Avoiding an employment claim – what you should do:

Prior to the termination meeting, be sure to document any issues in performance or behavior, as well as any disciplinary actions taken. Practice for the meeting by role playing with someone from HR and always keep these meetings private. Termination meetings can fuel office gossip which is unfair to the terminated employee and tends to lower office morale when done incorrectly.

During the meeting, be sure to have another member of management or HR present as a witness. Keep your explanations consistent and direct and do not apologize for the situation. Following the meeting, document the process, deactivate the employee’s keycard, terminate access to all workplace accounts, and make sure that the other employees are aware of the situation.

Termination meetings are never easy. If you have any further questions, or would like further guidance, contact us at