How Do You Fire Someone Nicely?

how to fire someone nicely
Photo: Pixabay/CUsai

How To Fire Someone Nicely

    1. Coordinate with HR, IT, and others to ensure a smooth exit process
    2. Ask to speak in private.
    3. Be direct and keep it short. (Ex. “I’ve called you in here because we’ve decided to let you go. Today will be your last day.”)
    4. Have a handout ready with all the necessary information.
    5. Offer support (Letters of recommendation, introductions to people in the industry, networking opportunities, etc.)

Fired, laid off, let go, canned, terminated… The reason there are so many euphemisms for losing your job is because it’s a universally difficult step to take as a leader.

As most leaders are aware, firing someone on your team is no easy task, especially if it’s an employee you’ve come to know and care about. It’s difficult to deliver such a gut-punch!

However, there is only one right way to terminate an employee whether they are a friend or not, whether you like them or not.

firing someone nicely
Photo: Pixabay/coffeebeanworks

First, Do Your Homework

Before I get into brass tacks, I’d advise you to first think over your relationship with the direct report being terminated.

Run through this list to make sure you’ve done everything you can to help this employee improve:

  1. Note how many times you met with this employee one-on-one. Meeting regularly with each person on your team ensures personal attention, and opens up discussions on how they should be approaching their work. Did you give this person an opportunity to ask questions?
  2. Think back on the feedback you delivered. Retrace your leadership steps: Did you deliver enough feedback? Did you orient them when they were veering off course? Did you give this employee a real chance to learn and improve?
  3. Check in with your transparency. A firing sometimes occurs because of circumstances that are completely out of our control. Budget cuts, downsizing, and mergers are all commonplace. In these instances, the firing still shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. When rumblings from on-high suggest a major shift in personnel, it’s time to calmly inform the team.

Going through these points covers you in several ways: You can learn from some personal failures to improve and, if the direct report contests the termination, you can point to several moments when you attempted to help.

Time To Double Check With HR

Before firing someone, you should always consult with your company’s human resources.

Every country and state has varying laws when it comes to termination (note that terminating someone for their gender, ethnicity, or sexual preferences will deservedly land you with a lawsuit almost everywhere), and it’s important to educate yourself before committing to a constructive dismissal.

Get clear on the reason behind the termination, even if it’s not required by law (which might be the case if you live in an ‘at will’ state). Then gather all pertinent information for the employee being terminated: dates of when benefits expire, information regarding their last paycheck (including any vacation days that may be reimbursed), what they should do with any company equipment, and finally who they can contact for more information.

They’ll likely be in a state of shock, so having all of this ready for them and laid out clearly will help immensely going forward.

how to fire someone nicely
Photo: Pixabay/coffeebeanworks

What To Say To Fire Someone Nicely…

Now let’s dive into the root of this issue: What do you actually say to fire an employee in the nicest way possible?

You’re going to hate this, but…

Be direct and keep it short.

There won’t be any metaphors, magic words, or stories of personal failure that can soften the blow. Instead, tell them outright and give them a moment to absorb. It is the greatest kindness you can offer. This way there’s no bargaining, negotiating, or (fingers crossed) any arguing.

“Steve, the reason I’ve called you in here is that we’ve decided to let you go, and today will be your last day.”

Take a beat and allow them to take in the message. Then go into clear and concise information about their last paycheck, details about their benefits, and who they can contact if they have questions. If it seems that they’re too overwhelmed to focus on the details, have a handout ready with all the necessary information.

Feel free to accompany them to their desk to handle any passing inquiries from coworkers (“Hey Maggie, what’s going on?” can be a difficult question for them to answer at that time.) Or, if its company policy, let them know security will be in attendance as they gather their things as a formality.

Offer Support (That You Can Follow-Through On)

In a final act of kindness, offer your support in whatever way you feel is most effective. Letters of recommendation, networking contacts, and introductions to people in the industries are all viable ways you can help someone begin their job search.

Be certain that the help you offer is something you’re prepared to give. Promises are great, but if you’re not willing or able to meet those expectations then it’s best to leave things as is.


No matter what, being fired is rough news, and there’s no way everyone will leave smiling. That being said, to fire someone nicely you first have to check in that you’ve done everything possible to make them successful, deliver the news simply, give them all the details concerning benefits and paychecks, and offer sincere support moving forward.

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at