Letting Someone Go With Tact

Every manager wants to give his or her employees as many chances as possible, but sometimes consistently bad performance reviews mean you must let employees go. Terminating an employee is rarely an easy task, and it often costs more to fire an employee than to find an alternative, making it a decision of last resort for many businesses.

Determining Grounds for Termination

In addition to being a complicated process, terminating an employee often means avoiding potential lawsuits and using the right information to make the call. Having a strong record of performance in the form of employee logs and detailed performance reviews can help a company validate its reasons for letting an employee go.

Your organizational documents, such as a handbook, should contain clear information on your termination policies. This information may vary from company to company, but it provides the guidelines you need to make the decision. You should always have a legitimate reason for terminating an employee.


After a certain number of bad reviews, disciplinary incidents, or other examples of business disruption, consider putting an employee on probation. Reasons you may put an employee on probation or consider termination include unpredictability, a decline in performance without a valid reason, poor attendance, a careless attitude, or unwillingness to change certain behaviors.  This gives an employee the opportunity to pull himself or herself together before you make the final decision to terminate. Putting a difficult employee on probation also prevents the uneasiness of surprise terminations in the workplace.

Tactfully Making the Call

There are a few things you should do to terminate an employee effectively, fairly, and gently. Avoid making snap decisions regarding employee termination, and consult with HR regarding company policies to effectively prepare to make the right call for your team and the company. Here are some ways you can effectively terminate an employee:

  • Have the meeting near the beginning of the week: Don’t keep an employee on until Friday if you’re going to terminate him or her. Get it over with quickly so that both parties can move forward.
  • Bring tissues, a witness (perhaps an HR representative), and evidence to the meeting: You will need to explain your reasoning briefly, but avoid engaging in an argument. Keep the meeting short and to the point. Provide the employee with any exit information he or she needs and end the meeting. Provide information about future references, health benefits, and any termination compensation that may apply.
  • Offer a written referral, if applicable: Some employees don’t work out for other reasons, and you may offer them a referral after termination. If you cannot provide an employee with a referral, express this sentiment clearly.

Letting an employee go is never an easy decision to make, but it might be the right one. Whether an employee has consistently underperformed despite efforts to assist him or her or if he or she is otherwise problematic, termination may provide the only proper way forward. A strong performance log and review data can help employers make effective termination decisions. Make sure that your next termination is as tactful as possible by using a performance review template.

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