How to Let an Employee Go


How to Let an Employee Go: A Guide for Managers

Having to let an employee go is one of the most difficult situations a manager can face. As leaders, we get into this career because we care about people. When an employee is underperforming or their role changes, it impacts their livelihood. This process takes empathy and care.

However, sometimes letting someone go is the best path forward for the company and even the employee. Shifting them into a better fit allows both parties to thrive. Approaching this transition in a compassionate, ethical way allows everyone to move forward.

Why You Might Need to Let Someone Go

There are a few common reasons a manager might need to terminate an employee:

  • Poor performance – If an employee consistently fails to meet expectations and coaching efforts haven’t worked.
  • Misconduct – Such as sexual harassment, falsifying documents, etc.
  • Restructuring – If the company eliminates a role.
  • Poor fit – When an employee’s skills aren’t aligned with the role’s needs.

Whatever the reason, this should never come as a surprise. You need to give feedback and opportunities to improve first. If you’ve had multiple conversations and there’s still no change, it may be time to part ways.

Preparing to Let Someone Go

Careful preparation is key to letting an employee go in a professional manner:

  1. Review company policies – Understand protocols for termination, severance, benefits, etc.
  2. Consult HR – They can advise on legal risks and processes.
  3. Plan the conversation – Decide what to say and potential responses.
  4. Choose the date/time/location – Somewhere private at the end of the day.
  5. Notify IT – They may need to deactivate access to systems.
  6. Gather paperwork – Like severance agreement, references, equipment return.
  7. Consider who attends – Will an HR rep join you? Inform your own manager.

This planning ensures the process goes smoothly and limits legal risks. Even if emotions are high, you want the employee to feel the company handled it fairly.

How to Have the Termination Conversation

When it’s time for the actual conversation, keep it short and direct:

  • Get right to the point – “The reason we’re meeting today is to terminate your employment effective immediately.”
  • Explain the reasons – Stick to facts without getting personal.
  • Review severance terms – Go over any compensation, benefits, references.
  • Collect company property – Badge, laptop, materials, etc.
  • Escort them out – Don’t allow them to linger or say prolonged goodbyes.
  • Be calm and compassionate – This is tough on them so be as empathetic as possible.
  • Don’t get into a debate – Simply wish them well.
  • Follow up in writing – Send a termination letter re-stating everything discussed.

While uncomfortable, keeping the meeting brief and direct is kindest. Drawn out discussions only prolong the stress. Show care, humanity and professionalism even when tensions run high.

Common Legal Considerations

When letting an employee go, be sure you’re adhering to all legal protocols. Common issues include:

  • Discrimination – Never terminate based on age, race, gender, etc. Stick to performance reasons with documentation.
  • Employment contracts – If they have an employment contract, follow whatever terms are outlined.
  • WARN notices – For layoffs of 50+ employees, you must provide 60 days notice under the WARN Act.
  • Unemployment – They have a right to collect unemployment, which impacts your rates.
  • Severance – This is not required, but offering a package can ease tensions.

Consult HR on any concerns here. You want to prevent legal action down the road.

How to Announce the Departure

Once they’re gone, you need to notify the rest of the team. Here are some tips on announcing it:

  • Keep details private – Never discuss reasons openly without their consent.
  • Break the news ASAP – Rumors spread quickly, so don’t delay.
  • Be transparent – The team may have feedback, so listen openly.
  • Acknowledge emotions – Allow space for people to express feelings.
  • Focus on moving forward – Emphasize regrouping as a team.
  • Avoid blame – Don’t rehash past issues; stay solution-focused.

This loss impacts the whole team. Allow them space to process it while keeping focus on goals. Morale may dip temporarily but will recover.

Reflecting on the Process

After a termination, take time to reflect. Think over:

  • What went well? Where can you improve next time?
  • How was the transition of duties handled? Did it expose any gaps?
  • Could you have provided more support earlier on? What lessons can you apply?
  • How is team morale? Do you need to address any lingering issues?

Letting someone go is hard but often necessary. Following best practices helps make the process as smooth as possible. Stay compassionate, act ethically, involve HR, and put care into the transition. This allows everyone to move forward in a positive way.

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