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How to Fire an Employee in a Nice Way

It sounds mean, but this is business.  If someone is holding your practice back, we need to let them go and move on as quickly as possible.  Check out this post for more on the philosophy, “Hire Slowly, Fire Quickly.”

Okay but how do we actually fire someone?  What should we say?  What should we NEVER say?

"Umm, don't work here anymore... please?

I recently hosted a poll asking if you’ve ever fired someone.  Here are the results:

It’s nice to see that most of us had relatively pleasant experiences delivering the bad news.  But a few of us said it did not go well and that’s what we’re worried about.

We must be confident but kind, a little cold but appreciative.  This not easy and we have a tendency to ramble on because we’re a little nervous.  That is where we can make the situation more uncomfortable, or worse… we might actually say something that invites legal troubles.

So here’s my biggest piece of advice: don’t tell the person why you are firing them.  Ever.  They’re going to ask, but you should dodge the question.  If you give a reason, you’ll have to defend it.  You’ll enter a discussion that will only create opportunities for you to slip up and say something inappropriate.

Now you’ll have to check with your state/country’s employment laws.  New York is a “fire-at-will” state, which means I can terminate employment without having to justify it.  If your local laws dictate that you do have to give a reason, then do so and make sure you have documented the multiple instances when you spoke with the employee about their poor performance.  It’s a good idea to document poor performance even in New York and other “fire-at-will” areas as a precaution.

So here’s my speech:

We know you’re not completely happy here.  You’re very good at your job and we all have fun working together.  So because of that we think it’s best to go our separate ways while things are still positive between us.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without you and the work you’ve done and that’s the truth.  And we’re lucky that you chose to come work with us.  You stood out among the pool of applicants; it wasn’t even a contest, you were clearly the best choice.

But you deserve to be completely happy.  You deserve to work someplace where you can better apply your creativity and intelligence.  We know you’re going to kick ass when you find that amazing place.

We’ve struggled with this decision and we know that starting today we’re going to have our work cut out for us.  It’s going to be a setback for this office without you here.  But we still think it’s the best decision for us all.

I think this works because it is kind, even a little flattering, to the employee.  It shows respect for the person and their worth to the practice.  Also note that my wording is “we know you’re not happy here” as opposed to “we don’t think you’re doing a good job,” or some variant thereof.  I build a vision of that person working somewhere that will make better use of their great talent.


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