You’re fired! How to sack with style

What is the best way to fire a disruptive employee? We tackle the sensitive subject of sacking staff.

Peter Iantorno November 29, 2015

“You’re fired!” Long before now-US Presidential candidate Donald Trump first uttered his trademark catchphrase on reality TV show The Apprentice more than a decade ago, those two words have been the worst nightmare of every employee.

Few CEOs or company owners take pleasure in firing a member of staff (except perhaps Trump and the other bosses on the various versions of the popular programme), but unfortunately hiring and firing is very much a necessary part of business, and often it ultimately falls to the person at the top to deal with it.

Clearly, letting a member of staff go is a sensitive matter, but what is the best way to go about firing someone? We took to questions and answers site Quora to find out.

Before you even think about how to fire an employee, the first point to consider is why you're firing them. Employment lawyer Gary Gansle stresses that sacking a member of staff is a serious undertaking that shouldn’t be done lightly. “When considering terminating an employee, you need to identify whether the reason for the termination is poor performance or misconduct,” he says.

Lord Alan Sugar The Apprentice UK.jpg Lord Alan Sugar is the face of the UK version of The Apprentice.

If the employee hasn’t done anything that specifically warrants termination and the reason is poor performance then, according to Gansle, “It is important to actually tell the employee that their job is at risk so that if a termination occurs, they will not be surprised.”

And when it comes to misconduct, Gansle says, “an investigation should take place to give the employee a sort of ‘due process’ right to face the accusation and be allowed to defend him or herself.”

He adds that the best way to fire someone is always to “advise the terminated employee in a private in a dignified way… and present them with their final paycheque.”

Marketer Ross Matthews advises that employers should follow a very specific plan when terminating an employee. “Let them save face,” he says. “Make the conversation as straightforward and simple as possible.

“Don’t procrastinate. Letting the issue linger won’t help.” He also says that employers should always “stick to the employment agreement”, “be clear about the next steps” and “announce the decision to the rest of the company”  - but only after the person has left the office. 

Jose Mourinho Chelsea leaving.jpg Football managers are often said to leaves clubs "by mutual consent" instead of being fired, as Jose Mourinho did when he left Chelsea in 2007.

There are some ways to soften the blow and prevent bridges being completely burnt when firing a staff member. IT professional Jared Valdron has the idea that an employer could introduce the employee to job opportunities that may be more suitable for them. “That way they don’t feel like they have no options and you maintain a professional relationship that can be leveraged in the future,” he says.

And Dorian Gordon claims that the best route to appeasing someone after a sacking is always through their wallet. “Express your regrets, thank them for their work, then hit the highlights of their severance package,” he says.

However, while Gordon is generous in terms of severance, when it comes to the decision itself, he maintains that the most important thing is to stick to your guns. “Do not get drawn into a discussion or argument,” he says. “The decision is final.”

According to CEO Jason M. Lemkin, in some extreme cases, a boss is perfectly entitled to fire someone “on the spot” in a very public manner. “I’ve done it five or six times in my career,” he says. “In half the cases it was for truly inappropriate conduct… Zero tolerance means zero tolerance. The more relevant times it’s been because what they were doing was so damaging to the company that I just needed them out. Immediately.”

Tim Armstrong AOL.jpg AOL CEO Tim Armstrong once famously fired an employee during a conference call with 1,000 members of staff.

And while Lemkin sticks by his decision to fire at will, he does accept a certain portion of the blame. “It was my fault,” he says. “I’d hired them, or approved their hiring. Blame yourself first for a bad senior hire. You let them in the door.”

Firing someone ‘on the spot’ might seem like a very haphazard and rash way to go about management, but, as Tech M&A Nat Burgess explains, there is often more to this tactic than first meets the eye. 

“A smart CEO who summarily fires someone is sending a message not just to the person being fired but to the employees who remain,” he says. “Firing someone galvanises everyone's attention. The smart CEO uses that moment to make a point in support of the success of the organisation.”

He also adds, “a firing may appear to happen ‘on the spot’, but in most cases the person being released was already in the penalty box and some action or event was the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

However, while it seems that there certainly are uses for this tactic, as business owner Kerry Brown states, “Don't forget, the sword cuts both ways… The employee can also quit without notice or warning.”

So, the next time you're forced to let a member of staff go and think about doing it 'on the spot' or very publicly, stop for a second to think about how you would react if the boot was on the other foot.

Quora respondents are required to use their real names and job titles. The site asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to prove their expertise.