Firing Etiquette - How to Fire ‘Well’ (if there’s such a thing!) - Zupnick Associates

(By: Brittany Brooks)


Etiquette comes most in handy when we’re in an uncomfortable position. It gives us something to fall back on when our brain farts. Like when we have to fire someone. You might have to let them go because of performance issues, violations, or another unsavory reason, either way, it never feels good for either party.

78% of supervisors feel guilty after firing an employee and 71.2% of supervisors didn’t even feel comfortable going through with the termination. Now imagine how it feels for the employee to lose their job.

Employees may have feelings of devastation, anger, worthlessness, guilt, and any other emotions we may feel as individuals. Luckily the concept of firing etiquette does exist and it plays a major role in the firing process.

What’s the purpose of firing etiquette?

The purpose of firing etiquette is to make sure we’re protecting everyone’s mental health, meaning certain things are done to help ease the feeling of being fired or firing someone.

But that’s not all. 

Good firing etiquette may also help protect your company from legal liabilities that may arise and most importantly it makes sure we treat our employees as human beings. You’ll never be able to stop all of the emotions that come with the firing process, but you can negate the impact by using etiquette.

Tips For A Better Firing Process

We compiled our top 5 tips on how to fire an employee and how to make your company’s firing process better. These are helpful tips for HR teams, supervisors, managers, and anyone looking to improve employee relations.

  • Don’t blindside them

There should be warnings leading up to the employee’s termination, so the employee has an idea of what’s coming down the line. Warnings could be, but are not limited to:

  • Performance feedback
  • Verbal warnings
  • Counseling & training sessions
  • Write-ups

These warnings also give you a chance to speak with your employee about what’s really going on to cause their underperformance, behavior, or any other problem.

Counsel employees first and offer further training, if the issue persists, verbal warnings and write-ups should be next in line. This also creates a record of the problem and what’s been done to remedy the situation.

It’s nice to have if you ever have to refer back to it later or need it legally in the future.

  • Always have a face-to-face meeting

Sending someone their walking papers via email, letter, text, or even a phone call is very impersonal. You should always hold the meeting in person and make sure your decision is kept private.

If possible, try to hold the meeting at the end of the workday or workweek to give the employee more privacy and a chance to collect their belongings.

We live in a world where a quick post or review of your company can be detrimental and the email you sent firing them could be put on display. It’s not worth it and it’s better to protect the employee’s dignity as much as possible.

18.2% of terminated employees posted a negative review of the company online in retaliation of being fired

  • There should always be a witness

Never terminate an employee alone, there should always be someone else in the room with you, preferably someone from your HR team. The extra person is a witness to everything being said.

Without a witness present, it becomes your word against theirs if the employee decides to file a lawsuit. You’ll also have someone who can jump in to answer questions or fill in that awkward silence if it arises.

  • End with encouragement

Give them encouragement for the future instead of continuing with negative feedback. If the proper steps were taken and warnings were given, they should already know what led them to this point.

The termination doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad employee altogether, they just may not be a good fit for your: 

  • Company’s system
  • Customer base or clientele
  • Guidelines, rules, or regulations
  • Company mission 
  • Workload
  • Company or workplace culture 

But they might be the missing puzzle piece to someone else’s organization. Ideally, we want the employee to feel as close to this as possible considering the circumstances. 

  • Don’t let the meeting drag on

There’s no need to keep going over what they did wrong. It’s okay to answer the employee’s questions and let them know they can file for unemployment if your company is okay with it.

You can also make them aware of any potential jobs or fields you think might be more suitable for them, otherwise, keep it short. The employee needs time to process their feelings and contemplate their next move.

Firing Remote Workers

71% of Americans began working from home last year with 54% planning to stay remote after the pandemic, so there’s a chance you may have to fire a remote employee. If the occasion occurs, you’ll still be able to use all of these tips except the obvious one.

Having a face-to-face meeting.

Instead, you’ll use the next best thing, a virtual meeting with everyone’s camera on to facilitate a face-to-face feel. You’ll still need to: 

  • Give warnings and track the issue 
  • Have a witness present
  • Remember to give encouragement
  • Keep it short and not let the meeting drag on


Firing someone is just as mentally damaging as it is to get fired. It takes a toll on everyone involved and rightfully so. Using firing etiquette helps to lessen the impact of these emotions.


It also helps with workplace morale because other employees pay attention to how we treat their peers and take note. Granted, no one will ever get fired and be okay with it, but we can treat them with some dignity and as humans.


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