Staff Street’s Complete Guide to Firing an Employee 2020

Nobody likes firing people. Nobody wants to be fired or be the one to do the firing. But there comes a time in every human resource officer’s shcedule when a manager and an employee find themselves at an impasse and must part ways.

It’s a difficult situation, but even more so during the pandemic. If you are about to fire an employee due to the impact of the Coronavirus-19 pandemic, please include details about government aid into your severance package

Aside from being difficult and heavy, a firing is an otherwise common affair in the working adult’s world. You are not alone.

If you’re the employer, it’s important to keep your head when you’re planning to dismiss an employee. It requires reflection, clarity of thought, and decisiveness. Business expert Jay Conger from Claremont McKenna College says that if an employer is already toying with the idea of dismissing or cutting ties with an employee, they’re most likely past the point of no return. 

So, before you even consider letting someone go, take the time to stop and ask yourself the following questions:

Reasons to Fire an Employee

A man contemplates firing an employee

Ideally, a good company has a good rationale for its organizational structure. Everybody understands what their role is and strives to fulfill it. This sense of clarity informs not just how a company or business builds its human capital, but also how it preserves and nurtures it.

A good company has a transparent and conscientious system for hiring as well as firing people. Here is a list of reasons why an employer might decide to part ways with an employee.

Poor Performance 

Poor performance is a legitimate reason to fire an employee. This includes

  • consistently failing to meet standards or quality of work 
  • the inability to improve on performance indicators
  • showing lack of desire or interest to address errors and shortcomings
  • committing actions that cost the company opportunities and resources 

One key thing to note is the importance of documenting these failures and the subsequent actions taken to correct them. Organizations can place errant employees on performance improvement plans (PIP), to show that they’ve taken measures to help an employee change their ways. They can write them up or schedule a verbal conference about their performance. Having proof that the company and the employee are no longer professionally compatible makes it easier to justify parting ways. 

Bad Behavior 

Whereas poor performance refers to professional shortcomings, bad behavior includes attitude and actions that harm the well-being of an organization and its members. This may include

  • lacking tact and respect for members of the organization
  • being disruptive of the workspace
  • making it difficult for people to do their work

It’s good to remember that people are not perfect. Most are happy to adjust after they’ve been told off. Bad behavior specifically refers to those who deliberately refuse to change even after they said they would. 

Absences and Tardiness

Every organization encourages their employees to follow rules on work hours, leaves, and absences. An absentee employee or an employee that is constantly late costs the company money and resources. Usually, a gentle reminder helps address the problem.

However, there may be underlying reasons explaining the absences or tardiness (e.g. a family emergency, safety issues, etc.). Human resources can help investigate and find solutions to these factors. But if an employee consistently fails to follow rules—despite all the reminders and the help—it is reasonable to let them go.

Property Damage 

Organizations have to protect their property and resources. Property damage is any harm done to the physical properties and resources of an organization. And it is a legitimate cause for termination. Negligence leading to lost or damaged property can be costly. This is especially true if the property-in-question is integral to a business’s operation. 

Harassment and Contribution to Toxic Culture 

Harassment of any kind, against gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, nationality, and economic class, is legal grounds for termination. It’s not enough for organizations to get by to achieve their bottomline. They have to build around their strengths, and the strength of an organization lies with its people. Thus, it is necessary that they provide care and protection for the dignity of their employees. A termination can affect morale. More so when employees see that an organization has failed to stand up for their rights.

Organizations have to consider the costs of their decisions. The goal is to eliminate the causes of harm to another employee and reduce the toxicity in the work environment. 

Cultural Incompatibility 

Sometimes, cultural incompatibility is something employers and employees only discover after having spent some time together. Competence and talent are not enough. An organization’s success relies on well-integrated employees. Obviously, termination is not a reasonable first step to address incompatibility. But if it’s clear that neither the company nor the employee will grow from the relationship. If they are bound only to cause harm or induce indifference, then, parting ways seems the most logical path to take.

Reasons Not to Fire an Employee  

The scales of justice

Just as there are valid reasons to fire people, unjustifiable reasons, too, exist. They may not always be obvious to a business or an organization at the time of firing, but they can easily get them in legal hot water if not taken seriously. This is one reason why it’s important to document mitigating actions and seek input from other leaders in the organization.

A manager might think that they are well within reason to fire an employee. But in reality, they might be toeing the line between bad behavior and retaliation, or incompetence and discrimination. There are plenty of ways to look at a situation.

Seeking multiple input on a particular case can ensure that an employee is not being fired for the following reasons: 

Discriminating Against Identity

It is illegal to fire employees based on their gender, sexual preference or orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or anything that may be construed as an essential part of their identity.

Ensuring fair and just treatment of employees is something that starts at the foundation of a business. Even before any one employee is hired, let alone fired. Organizations have to seek and internalize the best practices when it comes to improving their human capital. Individual care and dignity is just as important as nurturing the relationships between employees.

Approach and manage conflict in ways that reduce harm and promote dignity. 


Organizations cannot fire employees as a way to punish them. This regulation protects whistleblowers, and employees who report or cite illegal activities going on inside a company. Employees who are removed for filing reports or complaints, or providing information to external auditors and investigators may be within their rights to file a lawsuit. 

Breaches of Contract

Organizations have to be careful about what they put in their employee contracts. Likewise, they have to be conscious of informing their employees about the rules, regulations and norms in an office. An employee could behave badly enough to be fired. But if there is no support for their termination, no written guidelines, or a verbal orientation to refer to, they could file a suit for unlawful termination.  

Findlaw provides an extensive legal checklist for employers to review when they consider firing an employee. 

How to Fire an Employee

A firing conducted in private.

Step 1: Document Everything

The decision to fire people is something that isn’t done out of the blue. Before you even think about terminating an employee, you have to provide them a fair chance to examine their actions. It’s important to provide documentation that you have given the employee sufficient warning about their behavior and performance.

Documenting how to handle their performance weaknesses helps you explain and demonstrate clearly where you’re coming from. A verbal or written warning during the first onset of their poor performance or bad behavior helps you monitor the situation. This will also help you later on, when you need to reflect and pinpoint the rootcause of your decision. 

Step 2: Seek Input 

If hiring people requires the input and insight of managers and human resource officers in the company, then so does removing them. Seeking collective input is important because it can help you build a more holistic view of the situation. Firing people isn’t something that should be done in secret, or alone. It’s an action that will affect employee morale, the flow of work, and the overall integrity of a company.

Different people may provide sensible advice on how to proceed, if there are any alternative actions, and so on. Even more, some may be able to shed light on the consequences of the decision on the company. Sometimes, they can even help soften the blow, especially for the employee about to be dismissed.

Step 3: Reflect 

Firing someone is a difficult decision because the impact leave the building when the former employee does. As aforementioned, it can impact the morale and the process flow of an organization. Beyond that, the impact on the employee’s life is just as genuine and important to consider.

As the person in charge, you have to ask yourself:

  • Have we taken enough measures to address the issue?
  • What is the root cause of the problem?
  • Are there any mitigating circumstances or external factors that can be rectified to help the employee address their problems?
  • How will firing this person affect the company?

Finding time to ask yourself questions like these would enable you to see the big picture. 

Harvard Business Review has a very thorough checklist of questions and reflection points for employers who come to this decision.

Step 4: Gather Witnesses 

Additionally, it’s important to go into a termination meeting with witnesses. Make sure you have all the documents, including the write-ups and warnings and any agreements you may have signed with the employee regarding their performance or behavior. Ask a manager or a supervisor or the human resource officer to be with you when you hold the conversation.

Remember: gathering witnesses is not so that you can pile on a person. Rather, witnesses are there to attest to the proceedings. They are not supposed to intimidate the employee you’re about to fire. Instead, they are meant to make it as fair and safe as possible. 

Step 5: Conduct Termination Privately

Likewise, keep in mind that firing an employee should happen behind closed doors. There’s really no reason to do it in front of everyone. It can be humiliating to do it, let alone in public. Keep it private and protected. That is to say, shield both the employee in question from further embarrassment. Always try to ensure that enough dignity goes into the exercise. 

Step 6: Make it Final 

Many articles online emphasize the fact that the person doing the firing should exercise a sense of finality in the proceedings. Do not be vague. Do not use euphemisms or be implicit about your message. 

Instead of saying something cryptic, straight up say, “We have decided to let you go as an employee.” or “We’re here to discuss the terms of your termination as an employee at this company.” 

You have to remind them that the meeting is not just about discussing their bad behavior or second chances. You are all way past that now. It is about taking next step, and it includes them finding another place of employment. 

Step 7: Soften the Blow 

Make sure you’re not burning bridges.

That said, no matter what you do, take comfort in the fact that there is really no way to prevent bad feelings whe somebody gets fired. It’s unavoidable. The best you can do as an employer is to minimize the negativity. It is important to accept that you will not be able to remove all of the resentment. 

Make sure that the employee gets what they deserve, including any severance unemployment package, PTO conversion, and referrals. Some employers go as far as providing job placements for an employee that they choose to let go. 

Nobody likes to be on either ends of the table during a termination. It’s unfortunate. It’s awkward, and it’s difficult to get through. But it’s necessary. So, it can go along way if you find ways to soften the blow. 

How to Fire an Employee Online in 2020 

A woman is working from home.

If you’re reading this in the year 2020, then there’s a good chance that you’re curious about how to fire an employee online.

According to Businessnewsdaily, the most important thing to do is simulate how a firing might happen in person. Conducting business online, as you may have learned by now, is a lot more delicate than in real life. You can’t rely on atmosphere or body language as you would in person. So, it’s doubly more important to be prepared, and to be sensitive to the ways that you can lose the message along the way. 

Step 1: Organize All Documentation

Just as in person, you have to document every step in the process. All the warnings and the actions undertaken to resolve the issues with performance and behavior must be in writing. The advantage with working online is that all of this is probably already in your email or your company’s system. The next step for you is to organize them and create a formal report.

  • Citations – emailed notices, Slack or Skype conversations, other forms of warning or citations about behavior or underperformance 
  • Actions Taken – meeting schedules, minutes of the meeting, performance report
  • Company guidelines – in particular, the part that concerns or supports the cause for termination 

Step 2: Set-up a Video Conference

Close recommends a 1:1 video between a manager and the employee in question. But we recommend involving at least one other witness to the video call to monitor the proceedings, bring a sense of fairness and balance to the conversation, and act as a downtoner. 

Either way, a company must conduct termination via video call. Make it dignified. There are a lot of things that we miss out on by using email or chat. Don’t conduct a termination through channels that restrict or reduce the amount of things that you can communicate.

Give your former employee the dignity they deserve and the action the gravity it embodies by conducting a firing through video conference. 

Step 3: Clarify Obligations 

You have to make obligations clear both ways. Clarify things that goes with the job termination, such as 

  • Access to company emails/systems will be rescinded
  • Turnover over company equipment, if there are any 
  • Healthcare coverage (,i.e let them know how long they’re going to be on it)

Step 4: Inform Everyone

If your business operation is something that is done largely online, then, it’s important for you to communicate the events of a termination to the people involved.

It’s much easier to do this nowadays since, well, if you’re online, then there’s a good chance that everyone’s also online and easy to get a hold of. So, make use of that connection and make sure everyone is up to date with with changes to the organizational structure. Whether you’re introducing a new hire or terminating an old one, give everyone a heads up. Help them adjust to the circumstances.

This step underlies the reason why you need to conduct the termination with as much dignity as you can. Just because someone’s been kicked out of your organization, doesn’t mean they’re offline. It’s better for you to break the news to the rest of the company before they can. 

Step 5: Manage Negativity 

Firing an employee is overall an unfortunate event.

Some companies and managers go out of their way to soften the blow by extending help through

  • offering job placements
  • providing referrals
  • helping improve their resumes

Even then, it would be naive to expect that all employees are going to respond in kind. And the truth is, they are entitled to their emotions. They might deal with it publicly, bash the company online or villify the LinkedIn pages. The company may choose to respond, but engagement may only yields backlash.

If this happens, the organization must remember to focus on 

Maintaining the morale of the company.

This is why it’s important to have a witness, to inform the rest of the employees about your decision, and to communicate changes clearly and efficiently. You can raise the topic in a transparent and dignified way.

Keeping a record of everything.

On the internet, the most important thing for your credibility is to have receipts. And even if by law you are restricted from airing them, the important thing is that you have them. They will help inform any decision you might decide to take later on.