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The dreaded “you’re fired” interview

By Lynne Curry

You dread what you’re about to do. Even though your employee deserves to be fired, you hate firing anyone. You also fear the damage a fired employee can create with false wrongful termination allegations. If you’d to fire without backfiring and in a way that leaves the fired employee with dignity, here’s what you need to know.

Do your job right

Have you done your job? Have you clearly let your employee know your expectations; and given your employee the resources, training and support needed to do their job, along with corrective feedback, and chances to improve? If you’re not sure you have, check out the suggestions in “Pressing Reset” (chapter 7 of Managing for Accountability,

If you’ve done your job, you’ve minimized the risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit and can shake off any guilt. Your employee made the termination decision by not doing their job. In short, it’s on the employee, not you.

Don’t terminate in haste

Never terminate “on the spot.” Talk with your employee first. You don’t want to learn, post-termination, that the employee had extenuating circumstances, some of which involve legally protected rights, in areas such as disability or whistleblowing.

If you want your employee off your worksite, you can accomplish this by “suspending pending investigation.” phrase which shows you aren’t making a hasty decision.

Act with compassion

When you take an employee’s job away, realize you might be leaving your employee stranded without enough money for rent, mortgage or car payments, food, or their kids’ school supplies. You might think your employee is prepared to hear “you’re fired,” but those words take many employees by surprise.

Listen to whatever your employee says. Listening shows respect. Your employee wants to say it. You need to hear it. You may learn you’ve overlooked crucial facts.

Be brief

Be brief but not abrupt. While you don’t want to drag things out, if you’re brusque given  your desire to get the meeting over with, you risk treating your employee without compassion.

Don’t justify your decision by attacking the employee or their performance, as that invites argument. A simple, “A decision has been made. Your termination is terminated effective immediately” suffices.

If your employee asks for an explanation, be brief and don’t say anything you’ll regret. Your employee may be recording your meeting.

Prepared with the employee in mind

Provide your employee with the information they’ll need, such as when their last paycheck will come, and whether it will include accrued leave or any severance. Let your employee know when their insurance coverage ends and whether they’re eligible for COBRA or outplacement services.

If you’ve boxed up their belongings, let them know when and how they can get them. If you’ll accompany them into their work station so they can personally box up their belongings, have boxes available.

Don’t forget

Don’t forget to request the return of any employer-supplied materials, such as keys, codes, cellphones, and laptops.


Meet somewhere other than in your employee’s office and have at least two employer representatives present for safety and so you’ll have two individuals who can document what you say and what the employee says.

Have the meeting in a room with two doors so you can exit if a safety concern arises. If your employee has given you a reason to worry about safety, have a security guard present.

Notify IT so they can shut off your employee’s access to your network.

Remote terminations

When you’re terminating remote employees, provide them the respect of an individual private video-conferenced meeting, with you and your witness present. Let your employee know in advance the meeting will be private, so they’ll know to do it outside the presence of their children or others.


Make sure you’ve documented all significant performance issues, because if a regulatory agency or attorney contacts you six months from now, you’ll want to be prepared. If you’re firing for cause, make sure you’ve investigated the situation and have treated similar employees and situations consistently.

If your employee has complained about a safety or wage issue, taken leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, filed a workers’ compensation claim or a discrimination or harassment complaint within the preceding six months,  you’d be wise to ask an attorney for advice before making your termination decision.

Your other employees

Finally, let the rest of your team know that your employee has left, and that you wish the best for the employee, so they don’t walk past an empty desk or email an employee no longer on the team and wonder what happened.

Lynne Curry, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and author of Managing for Accountability, Business Experts Press, 2021; Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM 2016, and Solutions, is President of Communication Works, Inc. and founder of, which offers more than 500 articles on topics such as leadership, COVID, management, HR, and personal and professional development.  Curry has qualified in Court as an expert witness in Management Best Practices, HR and Workplace issues. You can reach her at or follow her @lynnecurry10 on twitter. She will present a webinar on Navigating Conflict for members of Medical Office Manager on Jan. 19, 2023.










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