How to Terminate an Employee for Poor Performance

By Josh Ownby November 10, 2017

As even a seasoned manager will tell you, probably the hardest thing to do as a manager is terminate someone’s employment. Even if the employee’s poor performance makes termination clearly necessary, you often still experience stress and anxiety leading up to the meeting. Knowing how to terminate an employee efficiently and effectively will help to reduce your stress and keep the meeting on track. Watching a management training video focused on how to terminate an employee is a great tool to help managers prepare for these difficult situations.

Tips for how to terminate an employee can be broken into “before the meeting” and “during the meeting.”

Preparing for a Termination Meeting

It’s imperative that proper disciplinary steps have been taken leading up to the day of termination. If you’ve followed these steps, and the employee has had many discussions with you about his or her performance — each escalating in seriousness — termination should come as no surprise to the employee.

Prior to the meeting:

  • Review the employee’s personnel file to reacquaint yourself with the documentation of the employee’s performance or conduct problems that have led to the termination, and any steps the company took to help the employee improve, like training.

  • Work out logistics like a final paycheck, severance, benefits and how the employee will clean out their workstation.

  • Write down your talking points. Stick to statements about their performance, what they agreed to do, and how and when they failed to do it.

  • Invite a third person (someone from HR or another manager) to be present at the meeting. This provides a witness (in case the employee later tries to file a suit) and also is likely to prevent a potentially hostile employee from acting out.

During the Termination Meeting

The meeting itself won’t be easy, but by keeping it short and staying on track, you can reduce your stress. Also, watching a management training video can help so you can see someone model the proper way to terminate an employee.

During the meeting, here are some tips for how to terminate an employee:

  • Avoid small talk to open the meeting. This might confuse the employee about the purpose of the meeting and later will feel false and not genuine to them.

  • Remind the employee of your previous conversations and that they were accountable for certain performance standards by saying “We agreed that you would…” and then state what their actual performance was. Don’t moralize or chide; simply state what they had agreed to do, and how/when they failed to do it.

  • State that termination is the consequence for their behavior. Say “As a result, termination of your employment is effective today.”

  • Hearing those words isn’t easy for anyone, so expect the employee to react in some way - to try to negotiate (promise to do better), get angry, or get emotional/sad. Maintain the employee’s dignity by using phrases like “I’m sure this is difficult,” and, if the employee tries to argue with you, “I understand you feel that way, but the decision is final.”

To teach managers how to terminate an employee while minimizing stress, drama, and legal liability, utilize a management training video like Manager Moments: Interviewing & Termination Do’s and Don’ts. This 6-part program not only includes do’s and don’ts for termination situations, but also how-to’s for interviewing and hiring, and preventing sexual harassment in your team.