HRM Five: How to fire someone

A guide to letting people go - gently.

Employee churn is a natural part of an organisation’s operations. Some people will resign; some will retire; and some will have to be let go. The last occurrence is never pleasant for any of the parties involved, but HR can play an important role in making sure that the process is handled sensitively. After all, HR is as much about the “human” angle, as it is about “resources”.

Here are some tips on how to ensure that any pain and discomfort related to employee terminations are kept to a minimum.


This article appears in the July-August 2018 edition of HRM Magazine Asia. 

Check out the rest of the issue here

1. Time it thoughtfully

It is frequently suggested that it’s best to terminate an employee as early in the week as possible. This gives them a few weekdays to start enacting their next steps of their career. You might also want to wait until the end of the day, when most – if not all – of the office has already left, in order to minimise embarrassment to the employee, or gossip amongst the rest of the staff.


2. Don’t be cold

You don’t want to go into the reasons why a person is being fired, as that might suggest that the matter is up for debate. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be brusque or cold. Do have a box of tissues to hand, and make sure you don’t have any meetings appointments right after, just so the employee has time and space to cry or vent as they need to.


3. Cover all bases

When explaining to the employee that they’re being terminated, HR needs to be prepared to provide certain information, or make sure that the firing manager is appropriately briefed. For example, they should be ready to answer questions on severance pay, references, and about knowledge and document transfer. Limit the discussion it to the practical steps that need to be dealt with whenever a person leaves the organisation.


4. Don’t jump the gun, but don’t put if off

Some behavioural issues – physical violence and aggression being an obvious example – have to be treated promptly and decisively. On the other hand, it might be difficult to tell if an underperforming employee just needs a kick in the backside, or to be booted out completely. In such situations, consider taking the time to sit down with the employee and their line manager to explain the situation. Give them specific goals and timelines, and explain clearly the consequences of not meeting them. If they fail, the next step will be clear – don’t waste time giving them too many chances, or they could become a liability to the rest of the organisation. 


5. Do it face to face

Imagine receiving a text from your spouse saying, “I want a divorce”. That would be shocking, not to mention tactless. Given that people spend most of their waking hours at work, one’s employment – or lack thereof – can have a significant impact on their livelihood. So it is not unreasonable to expect HR executives and line managers to have a face-to-face conversation with an employee being let go. That being said, a phone call or e-mail might be unavoidable if you have an absent-without-leave staff member who cannot be tracked down.


Yamini Chinnuswamy offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.


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