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How to Fire a Staff Member

Showing an employee the door is never easy, and while you may be tempted to keep the actual conversation short and sweet to avoid an outburst or any ensuing awkwardness, if you fail to fire someone properly, it could lead to significant problems down the line.

Enter HR Morning, which consulted with Amy Joseph Pedersen of the Stoel Rivers law firm to craft the ultimate checklist for saying goodbye to an employee.

Before termination:

  • Study up: Ahead of the meeting, be sure to go through the employees’ file for any potential post-employment obligations, including any non-competition agreements, non-disclosure agreements or any other confidentiality clauses. If they exist, it is important to present them to the employee during the conversation to “remind them of their obligations,” Pedersen notes.
  • Tackle technology: Line up someone from IT to help terminate the employees’ computer access while the termination is taking place so that the worker in question can’t do anything potentially harmful in the heat of the moment.
  • Make a date: The best time of day to plan for a termination conversation tends to be the late afternoon, and the end of the week is also optimal to give employees a bit of breathing space. Further, Pedersen suggests that you plan to go to the employees’ office or a conference room so that it feels neutral and you have an easy escape route (as opposed to throwing them out of your office!)

During termination:

  • Tell them about IT: Remember to let employees know that their computer access have been severed, but assure them that you will work with them to retrieve any work they need from their computer.
  • Make a plan for getting company property back: During the meeting, either go ahead and start taking back any company property the individual may have – such as phones, laptops, keycards, etc. – before they even leave the building. If the employee is remote, make arrangements to retrieve them in a timely fashion.
  • Listen up: If an employee mentions discrimination or retaliation, don’t dismiss it. Ask them to explain what grounds they have to make that claim and let them know that you will investigate the claim but that the current decision stands. Should the story ring true, contact your lawyer immediately for further guidance.


  • Make a pick-up plan: Decide how workers will obtain their belongings after termination. Will you walk them back to their desk? Will you stay while they pack? Would it be easier to let them meet you after hours when the office is quieter?
  •  Put it in writing: This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised! After you’ve had the termination conversation, go ahead and give them employee a formal letter stating that they have been terminated. You can also use this letter to remind them of any confidentiality or non-compete agreements that might be in place. For other guidance on what to include in the letter – from a legal standpoint – check state laws.
  • Make a plan for payment: Once again, state laws vary significantly in terms of what you have to pay out to a terminated employee, so be sure to check whether you are on the hook for paying out any unused vacation time or unused sick leave. There are also rules as to when staffers must receive their last paycheck so be sure to check your local laws on that before issuing a payment.

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