How to Fire Someone Respectfully: 15 Tips for Managers


24 Mar, 2023


Firing an employee is one of the most challenging and unpleasant tasks for any manager. No matter how justified your decision is or how poor the employee’s behaviour was, you may feel anxious and nervous when you have to fire someone.

How to terminate an employee respectfully

This article won’t discuss the legal aspects of terminating employees in Australia. Instead, we’ll provide practical tips on how to make the process respectful, compassionate and in a manner that maintains the person’s dignity.

Just as you need to manage an employee’s departure when they resign, you also need to actively manage the process when you terminate an employee.

1: Review all the documentation

Before you fire an employee, ensure you have a valid reason for doing so and have followed a proper disciplinary process. (You must follow the Small Business Dismissal Code if you are a small business owner in Australia.)

Make sure you have all the evidence and records of their performance issues or misconduct.

Check if you have given them adequate warnings and feedback and if they had a chance to improve or respond.

Look at your evidence and records with dispassionate eyes and question if they are sufficient to stand up in a court of law.

Remember to always consult with your employer association or a workplace relations lawyer if you are considering the instant dismissal of an employee, given the heightened legal risk of such an action.

2. Prepare the paperwork

You need to prepare a written termination letter that clearly states the reasons for dismissal and the termination date. This document can be used as evidence if there are any disputes or legal proceedings.

Calculate the termination pay for any entitlements they are due, including any payments in lieu of notice, accrued annual and long service leave entitlements, and any severance pay entitlements (e.g., if it is a redundancy situation).

Prepare to finalise and rapidly process any expense claims.

The final payment to the employee should be made on their day of work or as soon as possible after that. Most awards provide that all employers must pay an employee no later than 7 days after termination.

3. Choose an appropriate day and time

The best time to fire someone is early in the week, and early in the day, so they have more time and options to seek support and advice from others. Sometimes, a lunch hour may be suitable if it offers more privacy for the person.

Avoid firing someone just before a weekend or a public holiday, as this may increase their stress and reduce their access to support from colleagues or employment agencies.

4. Follow due process and natural justice

This means that you need to follow your company’s policy or industrial award/agreement on termination processes, as well as any government regulations or laws that apply to your situation.

You also need to ensure that you have investigated the matter thoroughly, given the employee an opportunity to correct their behaviour or performance, informed them of the allegations against them, and considered their response before making your final decision.

5. Do it in person

The most respectful way to fire someone is face-to-face in a private setting. Never fire someone by email, phone or social media, as this can damage your reputation and expose you to legal risks.

Courts have found that unless exceptional circumstances occur, dismissals should always be done in person and not via text or email.

If possible, use a neutral conference room where people cannot see or hear what is happening inside.

6. Control emotions

You should be calm and professional when you fire someone, not angry or emotional. Only fire someone when you have collected your thoughts and are relatively calm.

You must also be aware of the employee’s emotions and reactions and avoid being too cold or sympathetic in response. Your role is to be respectful, compassionate and empathetic, not to be their counsellor or friend.

7. Have a witness

You should always have another person present when you fire someone, preferably someone from human resources or another manager. This can help you avoid misunderstandings or disputes about what was said or done during the meeting.

You should also offer the employee the option to have a support person with them, such as a colleague or a union representative.

8. Protect yourself and your business

Firing someone can trigger negative or irrational behaviours from the employee, such as violence, anger or sabotage. You need to plan how to deal with these situations if they arise and how to ensure the safety of yourself and others in the workplace.

9. Be clear and concise

When you fire someone, you need to use explicit words such as “terminate”, “end your employment”, or “let go”. Do not use vague or ambiguous terms that may confuse or mislead the employee about what is happening.

When terminating an employee, it is essential to be transparent and clear about the reasons behind the decision. Explain the decision-making process and the factors that led to it, and provide specific examples if necessary. This approach helps employees understand the situation and provides closure.

You need to explain briefly why you are firing them without going into too much detail or listing every mistake they made. Just focus on the main reason or category of their performance issue or misconduct.

Make sure you explain when you expect the person to finish (immediately), what termination pay they are entitled to and what you will say if anyone calls you for a reference. 

10. Give some positive feedback

Even if you are firing someone for poor performance or misconduct, you can still find something positive to say about them. For example, you can acknowledge their effort, punctuality, or skills. This can help them leave with some dignity and self-esteem. However, please do not overdo it or be insincere; this may sound condescending or dishonest.

11. Collect your property

Ensure that all your property, such as mobile phones, laptops, security passes, name badges, company credit cards, client lists and remote access keys, are collected before the person leaves the building.

12. Wish them well

Always wish the person well for the future. Just because they were unsuitable for your workplace doesn’t mean they won’t be wildly successful elsewhere.

13. Inform your team

After the termination, you need to tell your team that the person is no longer working with you as soon as possible. You do not need to disclose the reasons for the dismissal; this is confidential and may breach privacy laws. However, you can inform them of the general situation and how it will affect their work.

You also need to reassign the tasks of the former employee and let your team know your plans to fill the vacancy.

14. Inform your clients

If the person you fired had any clients or customers they were dealing with, you need to inform them of the change and introduce them to their new point of contact in your business.

You also should reassure them of your continued commitment to quality service and customer satisfaction. This can help you retain their trust and loyalty and prevent potential business loss.

15. Manage your risk

Remember to change the security codes, delete computer passwords,  remove access privileges and redirect mail accounts of the employee as soon as possible after the termination.

Firing someone is never easy or pleasant, but it is sometimes necessary for your business’s success and your team’s well-being.

By following these 15 tips, you can fire someone respectfully and professionally, minimising the negative impact on both parties. You can also protect yourself and your business from any legal or reputational risks arising from a poorly handled termination.

Remember to always treat the person you are firing with dignity and compassion, as they are still human beings who deserve respect.

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HR Author and Lecturer with over 25 years' experience in human resources and workplace relations in Australia. Lead Author of Instant HR Policies & Procedures, NDIS Direct Employment HR Manual, and Employee Performance Reviews: Tips, Templates and Tactics.

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