Employee Termination Best Practices

employee termination can be handled ethically to produce a better result for both parties.

Practical Employee Termination Best Practices

You can’t be prepared for every situation, but if you follow these simple steps, it will make this process go smoother for both sides.

Something to review before the meeting

This article is a good overview on Employee Termination Best Practices. Here are the tips for a quick reminder, but if this is your first time doing this or it’s been a while, it’s a good idea to read through the short article linked above.

  • Minimize the employee’s embarrassment.
  • Don’t spend time debating your decision with the employee.
  • Don’t apologize for your decision.
  • Have another manager, owner or HR professional present for the meeting. It’s always good to have another set of eyes and ears present in case there are different interpretations of what was said.
  • Make sure you know the employment laws for your state and industry and for your organization size.

Keep It Simple

The termination meeting shouldn’t take more than 2-5 minutes. The sole purpose is to communicate the decision and next steps. Be prepared with a kind but firm tone. It’s OK if you are nervous. It can help to imagine the person happy and successful in their next career venture.

Below is a typical order of events for the meeting.

  • Make sure you have another manager or an HR professional present. 
  • Thank you for coming, I will get right to the point.
  • As you know, (insert description of reason for termination)
  • Effective today, your position here is terminated.
  • The decision has been made by (sr. leadership/manager) and is final.
  • Provide a packet with a termination letter, COBRA, and any other relevant info.
  • Discuss logistics for leaving and turning in equipment.

Planning for issues that might arise during the conversation:

  • If the employee attempts to negotiate, simply nod and show you understand and repeat, “the decision is final.”
  • If the employee requests specific reasons why, reaffirm that the decision is final and that the purpose of this meeting is to communicate the decision. If the employee would like to schedule a follow up meeting to help with their path forward, s/he is welcome to reach out and schedule that later.
  • If the employee asks about other employees and whether they are terminated or not, simply restate that the purpose of this meeting is to discuss this situation, not that of others.


As soon as possible, inform remaining employees that a reduction in force has happened. The rumor mill will work overtime, so timeliness is important to establish the intended messaging.
People are likely to ask if the terminations are “over” or if there will be more. Understandably, you may not know the answer to that question, but people will still wonder. A generally good answer is that as of now, there are no other planned changes.

Even when terminated people have very little work because of reduced needs, there are often things they are doing for and helping others with. People who are still on the team (survivors) will often ask how they get certain tasks done, decisions made, etc. with the person who used to do that gone? The default response is the terminated person’s manager, although there are times when a peer may take on some or all of those items. Be sure to prepare the manager to think ahead on this issue to reduce surprises.

Highlight the companies values and emphasize the continued importance of these. Link your messaging for the future to these values. It’s during difficult times that values are most critical to highlight.

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