Firing an employee is the thing that I hate to do most in business. However, there are times that it has to be done and as an owner or manager you have to do it. If a person is not working out or commits one of the “may be fireable offenses,” then you have no choice for the good of the company, the other employees, and its customers.

Firing someone is incredibly difficult if you are friends with a person who really should not be working for the company any more. On the other hand, I know some people who get a perverse sense of joy firing someone who does something absolutely stupid and deserves to be gone.

Laying off employees is just as difficult as firing them. However, it is done because of cash flow, slow downs in business, etc. This is through no fault of the people being laid off. So, it’s just as difficult to do.  

There are two types of firing: the “three strikes and you’re out” and the “immediately fireable offenses.”

As I’ve written in the past, you should have a list of immediately fireable offenses in your policy and procedures manual. Make sure that when you write the list of fireable offenses, rather than saying they are fireable offenses, write that they may be fireable offenses. There may be some mitigating circumstances when you need an out. And the wording could be your out. 

If you don’t follow the policy once, you can never enforce the policy again because an employee will scream “unfair.”

If you have a “three strikes and you’re out rule” for inappropriate behavior or incompetence, then have someone in the room to verify the verbal and written warnings. You or another manager should give ways for that person to improve and dates by which the behavior must change during the discussions. 

These should also be put in writing after the discussion and signed by the manager, the person being disciplined, and the witness. By the time the third strike comes, it should be no surprise to anyone, including the person being disciplined.

There should always be two people in the room when you fire someone. I’ve heard of managers getting beat up, shot at, and hurt in other ways when firing an employee. You have no idea how a normally rational person will act when he or she is being fired. Two people are your protection.

The less said the better when firing someone. You don’t want to get into a long, detailed discussion about why. If it is the third strike, the employee knew it was coming and the less said the better. If it is an immediately fireable offense, again the less said the better. My favorite line is “It’s just not working out.” Don’t say any more, even when pressed for a further explanation. You don’t have to explain what you mean by it.

Firing employees is an emotional time. Make sure that you have a list of the things you need from that employee (keys, truck, uniforms, pager, gas card, etc.) and run through the list to make sure that you get everything. In some states, the person’s final paycheck must be given to him or her at the time of firing. In others, you can mail the last paycheck. 

Once the person is fired, do not leave him or her alone in the building. If the person had a truck and is without transportation, you can have a manager drive or call a taxi. Do not let a fellow employee or the person who did the firing drive the person home. Again, the less said the better.

Firing and laying off people are facts of life for owners and managers. It is the worst possible job, but a necessary one. 

Copyright Ruth King. All rights reserved. Write to Ruth King, 1650 Oakbrook Drive, Suite 405, Norcross, GA 30093. Call (800) 511-6844; e-mail