How to Fire Someone

No one ever gets taught how to fire someone.  You can take an MBA and never learn this skill.  However, if you’re a leader, you’re going to have to do it.  All leaders must know how to let an employee go.

If you’re afraid of firing someone, welcome to the club! Everyone faces fear, no matter how seasoned they are. If you feel completely comfortable doing this task, that’s a bad sign! But there’s one rule to overcoming fear: Take action. Instead of stewing over this decision, take action and get on with it.

An alternative to dismissal

There’s a simple way to help the employee save face and save you the pain of going through with the firing: allowing the employee to self-select out.

Here’s how it works. Meet with the employee and tell them that the situation is very serious, and that if things don’t change, they will be let go. Ask them if they’re happy in their role. Ask them if they’ve gotten bored or need a new challenge. Give them every opportunity to quit with dignity. Self-selecting out is in their interest because:

  • Having a firing on your resume is difficult to explain to a future employer
  • Firing can be a traumatic event and avoiding it helps everyone.

It may not work, but it’s worth a try.

When is the right time to fire?

The best day of the week for dismissal is on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Avoid termination on or close to a weekend because the employee can’t take any action. They can’t apply for a new job. They can’t visit the Employment Insurance office. All they can do is go home and feel bad.

Don’t fire on or before a major holiday. Don’t fire in the middle of a personal crisis. This is not cool and not necessary except in extreme cases.

The best time of day to terminate an employee is at the end of the day when the employee doesn’t have to do the ‘walk of shame’ in front of their co-workers. Ideally, they’ll be able to leave the premises without facing others. Be nice. Preserve their dignity.


The firing interview should take place in a semi-private room, with a witness present. You want to make sure there is enough privacy that you won’t be interrupted, and enough public accountability that the employee can’t claim that something abusive happened during the interview. Having a witness present is critical. The presence of a third person de-risks the situation and takes away the he-said she-said possibilities that could occur.

How to fire someone: the dismissal interview

  1. The interview should take no more than 8 minutes. In fact, 8 minutes is too long. It should be brief and to the point.
  2. Get right to the point. Skip the small talk.
  3. Say, “A decision has been made.” Be clear that the decision is not open to negotiation.  The decision is already in the past.
  4. Cover the details. You don’t want to be calling your ex-employee in two days to ask about something that you forgot to cover. Make sure you’ve remembered:
    • Remaining pay
    • Benefits
    • Unused vacation time
    • Severance arrangements
    • Return of company property (technology, vehicles etc)
    • Ongoing project arrangements
    • Goodbyes to colleagues
  5. Finally, walk them to their desk and help them collect their things. Have a box ready. Be nice. Thank them for their contribution to the company. Shake their hand and wish them the best in the future.

What to say when firing someone

Here’s a sample script:

“Bob, please take a seat. We’ve talked about the issues with you in this role several times, and I’ve decided to make a change going forward. As of today, your employment with this company has been terminated.”

Get right to the point.  Avoid small talk.  Be direct, be kind and be clear that the decision has already been made.  There’s no point in debating or arguing.


There’s a maxim that says, ‘praise in writing, correct verbally.’ The reason for this is that verbal correction is listened to and the exact words are forgotten. The praise is in writing and remembered. This principle applies here too. Anything you put in writing will be taken home and analyzed and debated and disagreed with for weeks or years to come, and your letter may also end up in the hands of a labor lawyer to be used against you. You’re not required to put anything in writing, and you should not do it.  This is key to how to fire someone properly.

WHAT NOT TO SAY when firing someone

  1. This is for the best. It doesn’t feel good to the person being fired, and it takes them time to see the good in it. You will not be part of their healing process.
  2. I understand how you’re feeling. Actually, you don’t. Even if you’ve been fired yourself, you don’t understand exactly how they’re feeling and your attempts to empathize will be cold comfort.
  3. If you had only… Now is not the time to go over what could or should have been done differently. The relationship is now over, and everyone needs to move on, not examine the causes for the breakdown.


Every country and region has its own laws governing employee rights. Check with a competent labor lawyer to make sure what the laws in your area are.

Regardless of where you live, you must give:

  • A reasonable notice period
  • Compensation already earned (vacation pay, share/bonus-based compensation, vacation not taken etc.)
  • Appropriate severance or working notice
  • Anything promised in your employee agreement

If the employee is seriously disgruntled and goes legal the law takes into account:

  • Age of the employee. Older workers may be considered ‘disadvantaged.’
  • Length of service
  • Level of responsibility
  • Amount of notice given
  • Possible discriminatory actions
  • Whether or not the employee was induced to join the company
  • Availability of similar employment given the employee’s age, training, experience, and qualifications
  • Whether the ‘punishment fits the crime.’ Was their behavior truly fire-worthy?

The Professional Leadership Institute provides training on Termination of Employment and offers a free preview.

Summary of how to fire someone:

  1. Firing should never come as a surprise, so be sure to talk to the employee before firing to give them every chance to change their behavior
  2. The interview should not take more than 8 minutes
  3. The less you say, the better
  4. Cover the legal basics
  5. Be generous. Be nice
  6. The more prepared you are for the interview, the better it will go

Firing an employee is something no leader wants to do, but doing it in a professional way will make the process easier for everyone involved. Don’t let your heart getting in the way of doing what you know is right for everyone.

Trevor Throness head shot 2019

Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at

Find more about “The Power of People Skills” here:

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