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How to Fire Someone Nicely (With Scripts)

December 8, 2023
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Firing an employee, even when done nicely, is a difficult and sensitive task. 

As a small business owner, there unfortunately may come a time where an employee isn’t working out. Knowing how to fire an employee the right way can prevent legal problems, protect your company’s reputation, and maintain a positive team morale.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to terminate an employee, what to say, and how to plan for the future.

Raise concerns early

With performance and behavior issues, give your employee time to change before you fire them (except for extreme situations, of course!). Getting fired shouldn’t be a surprise. 

Discuss the problem, give them feedback and the tools to fix it, and resort to firing when there’s no sign of change.

Know when it’s time to let an employee go

Problems with employees are common, and it can be hard to know if you’re firing someone for the right reasons.

Here are a few reasons why it may be time to let an employee go:

1. Low performance

A low-performing employee can take many forms. Maybe they’re always late for work, taking long breaks, not following standard operating procedures, or not completing tasks properly.

Sometimes you can address these problems, and you should always try. Thorough walkthroughs of the jobsite after a service visit, alternative training methods, accommodations, and performance incentives can help.

But other times, the employee just isn’t improving. If it takes endless time and effort to manage their performance, it’s time to say goodbye.

2. Poor conduct

Your employee isn’t acting like a professional. They might have a bad attitude, be disrespectful to you and your clients, or generally behave badly.

Whatever they’re doing, your clients or other employees might have reported their behavior. It’s bringing down productivity, and it’s damaging the business reputation you worked hard to build.

If this behavior is rare, you might be able to work with them on it. But if it keeps happening, you can’t risk your business—you need to fire them.

You might run into a situation where you have to fire an employee for violence, harassment, theft, forgery, sharing proprietary information, lying on their job application, or even more serious illegal activity.

This type of behavior goes beyond poor conduct and could involve law enforcement. You’ll need proof of their actions, so make sure to document everything before terminating the employee.

4. No-showing

When an employee no-shows, they don’t arrive for work and often don’t call, either. This leaves you wondering what’s going on—and scrambling to cover their assigned tasks for the day.

Unless there’s a good reason for a no-show (like a family emergency), you can’t allow an employee to get away with a no-show. It hurts your business and tells your team that they can do it, too.

READ MORE:How to attract employees who stick around

5. Not the right fit

Sometimes employees just aren’t the right fit. Their skills don’t match up with what you need, their performance is fine but could be better, or you know they have potential but can’t reach it with you.

It’s better for both sides if you part ways now and each find an opportunity that will better fit your needs.

6. Not enough work

You might find yourself in the tough situation of not having enough work or cash flow for the number of employees on staff. As a result, you need to let someone go.

This employee may not have done anything wrong. They were just the newest or lowest-performing member of your team, and you have to prioritize which employees you’re keeping.

What to say when firing someone

Before your meeting, practice what you’re going to say—keep it direct and compassionate.

Try one of these scripts to fire an employee based on:

Script to fire someone nicely for poor performance:

“I’m sorry to say this, but I have to let you go. Some of our clients have raised concerns about your attention to detail during visits. You and I have already spoken about ways to improve, and your crew leader provided work checklists and extra training to ensure everything gets done, but I haven’t seen the changes needed. Today is your last day.”

Script to fire someone for poor conduct:

“I hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but I have to fire you. Your attitude toward me, your team, and your clients has been disrespectful, and I’ve gotten too many complaints about the way you conduct yourself. I can’t have that behavior associated with my business anymore. Today is your last day.”

Pro Tip: Create an employee handbook to lay out expectations around performance, attendance, and conduct. If an employee reads it and still isn’t meeting those expectations, it’s much easier to end the working relationship.

What to say when you fire someone who no-shows:

After confirming they don’t have a legitimate emergency, like a sudden illness or accident, you can send a text message or email like this to end their employment:

“I’m firing you for non-attendance. Today is now the second day you haven’t shown up for work. You haven’t answered any of my calls, texts, or emails, and I don’t know where you are or when you intend to come back.

This tells me that I can’t depend on you to do your job. You’re no longer employed by Plum Landscaping, so I’m sending your last paycheck.”

Script for how to fire someone who is not a good fit:

“This isn’t working out, so I’m letting you go. I understand you have questions and are likely surprised, but we’re ending this employment relationship because it isn’t a good fit. The decision that we have made, while tough, is final. So the most productive thing to do today is not to discuss why, as it won’t change the circumstances.”

How to let someone go when downsizing:

“This is hard to say, but I have to let you go. We’ve had less and less work to do over the last several months. The company’s financial situation isn’t what it used to be and we can’t afford to keep operating with our current team. I can only keep a few of our highest-performing employees, so I’m letting several people go, including you.”

Listen to what the former employee has to say

Offer the terminated employee the chance to voice their thoughts and feelings about the termination. Listening to your employee shows that you respect them and value their feelings.

You may also learn something about your management practices from your employee’s perspective that you can improve upon in the future.

Depending on the situation, you can let the employee share their feedback on the spot, or schedule an exit interview for a later time. Just make sure the conversation is held in a private space, give your employee your full attention, and let them speak without interruption.

End the conversation on a positive note by thanking them for their time and contribution to the company, and wishing them the best in all their future roles.

Provide an employee termination letter

A termination letter gives both you and the employee a clear, official record of why they’re being let go. It also helps avoid any confusion or legal disputes down the road.

Your employee termination letter should include:

  • The employee’s name, position, and date of termination
  • Specific reasons for termination, including references to prior warnings
  • Information about the final paycheck, including any owed vacation pay or severance pay (if applicable)
  • A reminder of any ongoing confidentiality clauses (if applicable)
  • Any legal or policy-related information, like non-competition clauses (if applicable)
  • A space for the employee to sign, acknowledging they’ve received the letter
  • Information about who the employee can contact for further questions

Update your team

After you fire an employee, the rest of your team might be worried they’re next. This can affect morale and productivity. And depending on who you fired and why, other remaining employees may leave on their own.

Your team will ask questions. There’s no way around it. So it’s best to call a quick meeting or send out an email to provide answers instead of letting them wonder what happened.

Be transparent and stick to the facts, but don’t get into too much detail. Reassure your team that they still have jobs and that this decision was made with them and the business in mind.

You might be worried about how a termination will affect your team, but it’s better to fire a problem employee than to keep them around—which could still affect your team in the long run.

When you fire an employee nicely, the rest of your team will see that you’re a fair employer who values good work, sets reasonable expectations, and treats them with respect.

READ MORE: How to build a business where employees want to work

If you had to fire an employee due to lack of work, though, you might not be able to reassure your team about future work.

Be extra transparent about how you’ll keep them employed—and understand if they decide to leave, too.

Pro Tip: Tell your clients about the change in staffing if it affects them—for example, if someone new will be cleaning their home each week. Just say, “John is no longer with the company, so Steven will be cleaning your home. I’m confident you’ll be happy with his work.”

READ MORE:Try these expert tips for engaging employees

Plan for the future

Once the termination is over, reflect on the reasons for letting the employee go and consider what could’ve been done differently. Use the experience to improve your hiring practice or employee management strategies, and update your HR policies or training programs.

If the reason for termination was anything other than downsizing, determine whether you’ll need to hire a replacement, write a job posting and revisit your employee referral program.

Terminating an employee may affect the rest of your team’s workload or dynamics. To provide support to your remaining team members, review their responsibilities to make sure they’re not overworked, and promote an open door policy that encourages employee feedback.

Best practices for how to terminate an employee

It’s important to fire someone with kindness. Put yourself in the employee’s shoes and imagine how much it hurts to be fired.

You also don’t want to risk your company’s reputation. Sites like Glassdoor allow employees to leave company reviews, and negative reviews can affect whether future candidates will apply for your job postings.

You can fire someone nicely using these best practices:

  • Give yourself time. Set aside 15 minutes to tell the employee about their termination in person. Some people prefer to fire at the end of the day on Friday for extra privacy. Others prefer Monday morning so they don’t have to stress about the conversation all day, and the former employee can start job searching right away.
  • Practice. Rehearse what you’re going to say ahead of time, especially the reason why you’re firing the employee. This isn’t a conversation you can improvise, especially when saying the wrong thing could put your company at risk. Practicing will also help reduce your anxiety and keep you from freezing up.
  • Bring a witness. Don’t fire your employee in front of the entire team, but bring one employee into the meeting. This gives you a neutral third party, which is important if the conversation gets heated or the fired employee takes legal action later on.
  • Be clear. Right off the bat, tell the employee that you’re firing them and why, without using a lot of extra words or small talk. Make it clear that the working relationship is over, explain next steps, and provide the necessary paperwork. The worst thing you can do is leave the person wondering if they still have a job or not.
  • Be firm. The employee might get upset or ask for another chance—after all, nobody thinks they should be fired. Don’t let yourself be swayed in your decision. It’s what’s best for your business and your team. Just repeat that the decision is final, and keep doing it for as long as it takes for the message to sink in.
  • Don’t get emotional. Listen and allow the terminated employee to feel what they feel, but don’t get swept up in the emotion. And avoid saying platitudes like, “I’ve been in your shoes before and I know how you feel.” Those words only help the people saying them and aren’t very comforting to someone who’s suddenly having a terrible day.
  • Give them time. You’ve had the chance to practice this conversation, but the employee hasn’t. Tell them they have 48 hours to think things over and reach out with any questions. That way they can go home and process the information instead of having to clarify every detail in their exit interview. It can also help defuse any anger.
  • Allow a goodbye. You can decide if you want to give the former employee the chance to say goodbye to their coworkers, depending on how the termination meeting went. (If it went badly, they might see this as an opportunity to bad-mouth you to the rest of the team.) They may or may not take that opportunity, and that’s okay.
  • Reflect on the termination. Ask yourself why the employee didn’t work out. Is it time to reassess your interview process? Do you need better policies or training? Or you might find you made the best choice based on the information you had, and it just didn’t work out. It happens, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Pro Tip: Was the person a good employee, but you had to fire them due to lack of work or other reasons outside their control? You can soften the blow by offering a severance package, letters of recommendation, or an introduction to other business owners who might be hiring.

Get more best practices from Christine Hodge from Clearview Washing:

Terminating an employee isn’t easy, but it’s a reality of running a business. Knowing how to fire someone nicely can at least help you handle this uncomfortable task in a compassionate way.

This is what’s best for your company and for the rest of your team. When you feel anxious or uncertain, remind yourself that your former employee will be okay—and you will be, too.

Originally published in March 2017. Last updated on December 8th, 2023.

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