How To Humanely Fire Someone

Maybe it’s because I’ve been there. Fired without warning, no HR people present, treated like a used bandaid they were happy to discard after two years’ use.

I recently read this (old, yet first Google search result for “How to fire someone”) Entrepreneur article about how to fire someone and it made me sick to my stomach.  

Though the whole article wasn’t terrible and it did contain some useful points, there was a tone and word choices that especially grinded me.

The article makes it clear what it’s presenting: “...ten tips to help you remove the bad apple cancer from your business with a "zero to low" risk of being sued for wrongful termination.” That statement in and of itself is sickening. “Bad apple cancer” - are we talking about a person here? The underlying assumption, of course, is that there are some people that are inherently “bad apple cancer”. Just because it’s “business” doesn’t mean we get to talk like this. It’s personal, because there are people involved.

Original photo by Leonora Grceva.

Original photo by Leonora Grceva.

I’m not naive enough to think that everyone is going to bring their best self to their job. I know there are people that are divisive, destructive and steal things. That doesn’t make them inhuman cancer though. They are dealing with stuff that affects how they view their work, people around them and their actions. Yes, people should be held accountable for their decisions. But they aren’t “bad apple cancer” that you fearfully remove with trepidation that it might metastasize.

There are times when people should be fired. But there are never times when people should be treated like anything less than human.

Also, the article portrays the firee (not a word, but let's go with it)  like they are a seasoned corporate fraudster by day and an axe murderer by night. If you truly believe a person is dangerous and destructive, you should have the police involved instead of following a list of points you found on online. However, I don’t think the article really is addressing situations with violent employees. Instead I think the firee is vilified in the article because it’s easier to vilify the person you’re going to fire in order to feel better about it - even if it’s not an accurate representation of the situation. 

So, I offer a-not-motivated-by-fear-and-money way to fire someone:

1. Recognize what you’re about to do.

Realize you’re about to end someone’s source of income. You may also bring to a close potentially what they deem as their main source of pride, purpose and how they define themselves. Recognize that even though the decision is best for the business, it will likely rock the firee’s world.

2. Be brave.

Don’t put it on someone else. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t put it off. Don’t seek your own comfort. Respect them enough to be brave and do it right.

3. Be mature about it.

I recently heard of someone who got fired and their co-workers knew ahead of time and dropped hints to them. Are you a mean girl in high school? No? Then don’t be shady about it and don't embarrass the person you’re going to fire by telling their co-workers ahead of time. Also, the more immature you are about it, the more other employees see this conduct and can be unsettled by it.

4. Get them help if you can.

Depending on the reason they were fired, you may be able to encourage them in other areas and use your pull if possible to help them pursue their strengths.  By showing your willingness to help, you may be able to encourage them to see this only as a job, not as who they are. If you fired them because of fraudulent activity, it may be helpful to offer outside counseling to address the root of the fraudulent actions.

Firing someone sucks. But treating someone with respect and humanity when doing so can greatly impact their response and outlook, not to mention your well-being. Care well for even those you have to let go. Firees are people too.