Did you hear the one about the employer who mistakenly issued pink slips to 1,300 employees via email? Oops! They only meant to send the termination notice to one person. We bet the phone lines and Twitter feeds were doing double time in that work community after that surprise.

The big news here isn’t the blooper. It’s that some employers think using email is an appropriate way to fire people. Call us old-school, but we don’t think an important matter like a job termination should be handled by email, phone call, or letter. Unless there are extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances, firing should be a face-to-face meeting — employees deserve that courtesy. Yet virtual firings do happen, and they happen at all levels of the organization.

In our role as an EAP, we find ourselves working with managers and employees when terminations and downsizings occur. There is no easy way to fire someone, but here’s our recommended best practices to ensure that affected employees are afforded the maximum in fairness and dignity.

First, if the termination is based on performance, make sure that the employee has been adequately warned, that warnings have been well documented, and that the employee has been given ample opportunity to rectify the situation. Many employers conduct an administrative referral to their EAP at this stage. Done properly, an administrative referral will resolve and head off more than half of all performance-based terminations. If the termination is part of a downsizing, there should be an announcement ahead of time that layoffs are planned.

If termination is the only solution, whether for performance or for general business reasons, the following steps will prove helpful:

  • Schedule the termination meeting early in the day, and during the week; avoid terminating employees right before a holiday or a weekend.
  • Have all paperwork ready. The final paycheck and all severance and benefit information need to be delivered at the termination meeting.
  • The employee’s manager and a representative from HR should attend so that you are able to cover all issues and questions.
  • Be brief. Be compassionate. Allow the employee to vent his or her feelings, but do not engage in a negotiation or argument. Plan in advance what you are going to say and choose your words carefully.
  • Extend every reasonable courtesy to the employee. Give the person an opportunity to say goodbye to coworkers. Should the employee become angry or abusive, don’t get upset, simply escort the worker from the building.
  • After all questions are answered and all paperwork completed, wish the person well and help them assemble their belongings and leave.

Firing someone is always a difficult task, but following these basic rules will help it go better. We don’t advocate e-mail as a good termination strategy!


When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

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