After you have taken all of the preliminary steps, considered all of the potential ramifications, legal and otherwise, and made the difficult decision to let someone go, stick to it. Don’t torture yourself with second thoughts. Don’t prolong the firing.

Only the worker’s direct supervisors, and any witnesses that will be present at the termination meeting, should be told about the termination decision in advance. An advance leak of a firing can only worsen the situation.

In years past, late Friday afternoon was considered the optimum time to let someone go. Today, earlier in the day, or even the week is deemed appropriate. Some companies that take this approach offer the employee the option of either remaining for the rest of the day or week or leaving immediately with pay for the workday.

When you are ready to proceed with the termination, call the employee into the office. Approach her with, “I have something to discuss with you.”

After the employee and any other managerial personnel or witnesses have gathered in your office, get to the point quickly. Briefly explain to the employee that she is being fired. Use the words “we are going to have to let you go.”

Summarize the main reasons for the termination and recap the warnings that have been issued and the opportunities extended to improve her performance record.

Give the person a check for monies due. If you are offering severance pay, detail the severance offer and present the employee with the forfeiture document to be signed if the severance is to be paid. Explain any continued work options. Offer to let the employee clean out her office or desk now, or have you mail any personal belongings to her later. If the employee elects to have you mail her belongings, have two people oversee the cleaning process to make sure that all of the employee’s personal possessions are mailed.

Show appropriate sympathy for the employee, but not empathy. Do not waver and change your mind. Do not overstate any aspect of the employee’s performance.

Answer any questions the terminated employee may have, even if she interrupts you. A termination is extremely emotional. Don’t be surprised if the employee doesn’t hear the basic message or doesn’t understand the details of her firing. You may have to restate all or part of the termination.

As long as the employee doesn’t lose control, extend her every reasonable courtesy. Certainly give the person an opportunity to say good-bye to coworkers. She will only call these people on the phone later anyway.

If the employee does lose control and becomes seriously verbally abusive, ask her to vacate the building. Don’t get upset. Remember, no matter what you think of the employee, that person is being terminated. She is leaving, not you.

Even if you or someone else in the office can overpower a suddenly violent discharged employee, the risk of a lawsuit is huge. The one time I did call the police, the employee fled the building before they arrived. But the (Boston) police told me its policy was not to refuse cancellations on this type of call because all too often the discharged employee may return with a weapon. In this case, the employee did return with his dog—but the dog was about the size of a miniature poodle, with about the same level of ferociousness.

The odds of you or another employee being endangered during a firing is slim, but you do need to be prepared for the unexpected.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Follow through quickly once you have made a firm decision to fire someone.
  • Your basic message may get lost in the emotion of the moment—take the time to be clear.
  • Sympathize, but don’t empathize. Be respectful, but don’t waver.