The 10 Commandments of Employee Terminations

Dec 27, 2021

Terminations are always unpleasant, but these rules can make it easier and less risky.

You will eventually need to terminate an employee if you own a business. If you are not careful, you will do it the wrong way. This can go spectacularly badly–just ask Vishal Garg if you’re not sure. His Zoom meeting to fire 900 people resulted in a media superstorm and his taking a leave of absence.

But if you don’t terminate people often or don’t have experts on staff to help you through it, you may inadvertently make some of these mistakes. 

Fortunately, Stuart Silverman, who runs his own law firm as a labor and employment, litigation, and business attorney, wrote ten commandments for terminations. Here are his rules, with my explanations of how they help your business do effective and fair terminations.

Please note, this is a checklist for the termination and not for determining who you will terminate.

  1. Do not bring additional people (strangers or even attorneys) into it. Have the supervisor, the designated people skill person, and HR if needed. People find losing their jobs embarrassing enough. Don’t turn it into a spectacle. The supervisor should always deliver the news.

  2. Do not fire by e-mail, text, or any other impersonal method. We do a lot of communicating via messaging and Slack, but when at all possible, terminations should be face to face. If that means that you hop on a plane to terminate someone, so be it. (Don’t make them come to you!)

  3. Do not terminate on a Friday or early Monday or any other time that allows for “brooding.” My first rule of terminations (not Silverman’s, but I’m sure he’d agree) is that you want terminated employees to go away and never bother you again. If you terminate them when they can’t reach an attorney or can’t get support from their spouse, it makes it worse.

  4. Do not escort the person from the building in the view of others. If the person becomes violent in the termination meeting, you can ignore this advice. But I’ve been involved in over 4,000 terminations, and we never had to call security on someone. Let the person decide if they want to clean out their desk now, come in later in the week to do it, or have the manager do it for them. Treat them well.

  5. Do not embarrass the person or tell them they were a subpar employee. Even if the person was a subpar employee, what’s the point now? If the person was on a performance improvement plan and failed it, you can mention that they did not meet these goals, but that’s it. Remember, you don’t want to make them more angry or sad than they already are.

  6. Treat individuals respectfully and with dignity. How would you want your boss to treat you? Do that.

  7. Have all the benefits worked out and discuss non-monetary terms. If your paperwork isn’t ready, don’t do the termination. Don’t say you’ll tell them tomorrow or next week if they will receive severance or how much Cobra will cost. Have that information together and present it at the termination.

  8. Give the individual hope and encouragement. Give them information on how to apply for unemployment. If you provide outplacement services, let them know how that works. Remember, you want them to go away and not bother you, and helping them find a new job is the best way to do this.

  9. Tell the person how hard a decision this was and, if true, how it can better help them. But make sure you don’t focus on how hard it was for you. It’s always harder for them. Give them support on how to move forward.

  10. Let them know what will be communicated to co-workers and clients. People want to know that their clients will be taken care of. They also want to make sure their reputation stays intact. Unless the employee committed securities fraud or something similar, don’t try to bash them to other employees or clients. Let them know what you’ll say and how you will handle it.

You’re far less likely to trend on Twitter if you can follow these ten commandments when terminating people. And that’s a good thing. 

By Suzanne Lucas