09.08.20176 min read

7 Etiquette Tips to Use When Firing an Employee

The night before a small business owner needs to lay off an employee, it can take hours of planning the right words to say. The employee may have worked with your company for a decade or is a single mother with three children. Before you figure out how to fire an employee, we recommend these action steps to ensure it is one that ends on a positive note.

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1. Offer career development services

The services that you offer will depend on your insurance coverage. To help them with the transition, recommend outplacement services, career counseling, or an emotional support hotline. Another option is to give advice that includes what to put on a resume and what to say if a prospective employer asks why their employment with your company ended. Do your best to avoid burning bridges with employees because you might consider re-hiring them in the future.

2. End employment in private

If you are firing a few employees, meet in a private place with each person while a human resources specialist is in the room. It is respectful to avoid firing more than one employee at the same time if the layoffs are for different reasons because the person can express their emotions and ask questions.

If you need to let multiple employees go for the same reason, a group meeting is an option. Speak directly to the group and explain that the company is laying off workers and offer as much information as you can give.

3.    Give an employee time to leave 

A layoff can be a surprise to most people, but it does not mean it needs to be unprofessional. I remember a colleague of mine walking around the building shaking hands to wish employees a farewell after being fired. In other instances, employees were removed with a security escort because the conversation ended in a negative way.

Allow the employee 10 minutes to pack their personal belongings. It’s highly recommended that confidential information about the company is left behind. The best action step is to avoid being disrespectful during a layoff because it can potentially result in a lawsuit.

4. Discuss the reason for the layoff

To improve their career development, some employees will ask the reason for the layoff. If you can provide examples, bring a list of reasons. Begin the conversation with positive feedback and how the employee helped the company achieve its goals. The last part of the conversation should explain if the decision is based on inappropriate behavior or performance.

5. Inform all employees

While it is important to use privacy when sharing information with colleagues about layoffs, a formal communication is the best way to inform the company as a whole. A PDF letter attached to an email by the CEO or a member of the C-suite is acceptable. It should include the following items:

  • The date the letter was written
  • One paragraph explaining organizational changes
  • Timeline of when the changes will occur

The human resources department should have a policy on how to send a communication professionally. We recommend an email is sent a few days before a layoff to prevent employees from searching for work opportunities outside of the organization because of the fear of being let go.

6. Be compassionate

Most employees will not forget about being fired, and the way it is done will remain in memory for a lifetime. It can damage your company’s reputation if the company culture accepts disrespectful communication when ending the employment of an employee. We recommend that you establish a positive company culture that practices respect in all situations in the workplace.

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Offer a way to help. If the person the person was a benefit to the company, suggest being a reliable reference. You can introduce them to managers or other business owners that are hiring.

Compliment them on their achievements and remind them that they will be a good addition to a new organization. You don’t have to be cold at a time when the employee will be vulnerable. If the person begins to show emotions, have a tissue box on hand.

7. Offer a lending hand

It can be an awkward moment watching a person that is fired clear out their desk. Ask them if they need help gathering their belongings. If you can think of a successful work assignment they completed that can be added to their portfolio, offer to send it to them later.

Offer to help the employee with their things. Shake their hand and thank them for their commitment to your company. An act of kindness will not remove the pain the person is feeling, but it will set the tone of how layoffs are conducted in your organization in the future.

The last thought we want to leave you with is to ensure that your company’s purpose, mission, and values encourage a healthy work environment. The act of laying off employees can appear as an inevitable part of business, but it can have an impact on top talent applying to work for your company. The reality is word spreads quickly and employees tend to share their experiences about their work environment with their circle of friends.

Do your best to be an employer that ex-employees will speak highly about now and in the future.

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Makeda Waterman is a freelance business writer with writing clips from Huffington Post, Glassdoor.com, Elite Daily, and Startingbusiness.com, among others. She has an education in journalism and owns a writing business with a passion for helping companies grow.

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