A Termination Guideline: How to Fire an Employee Legally?

One of America’s most-recognizable entrepreneurs made his fortune with the catchphrase “you’re fired!” on television. Truth be told, firing an employee is not as dramatic (an enviable!) as it seems to be on the screen. No one likes to let someone go, it doesn’t matter how hardworking or high up they are. If you’ve ever had to fire an employee, you already know it’s an awkward affair and uncomfortable no matter what. To ask the inevitable: how to fire an employee legally?

There are a few things you can keep in mind to make it less painful for everyone involved. Below you’ll find tips from seasoned executives that will help you guide through the painstakingly awful process of firing someone.

The Right Way to Fire an Employee Legally

You know it’s a necessary part of the trade, especially when you’re in a supervisory role. This doesn’t mean that you haste away with it, so you don’t have to deal with the guilty-conscience.


In many cases, it becomes necessary to let the employee know well in advance that they’ll be terminated if they don’t make the necessary improvements. Unless it’s a behavior at issue – sexual harassment, for instance is ground for immediate termination – sometimes the employee can realize the error of their ways and turn things around.

Set up an initial meeting to go over areas of improvement, and let them know that things can change for the best with measurable goals being met within a certain timeframe, typically 45 – 90 days.

If you’re looking for ways to fire an employee legally due to financial reasons, then it’s best to carry out the termination without any warning. Announcing that someone in the office will get terminated if the profits don’t improve will only cause fear, stress and some intense competition – and it’s not the ideal working environment.


Protecting your legal and financial interests has become even more imperative in today’s let’s sue everyone world. Document any interaction or performance related problem as well as any action being taken. Keep a folder of emails sent, write-ups, performance improvement plan (PIP), etc. Even if you have a face-to-face interaction you’ll want to send summary emails.


The phrase “I should have fired them a long time ago,” is often repeated behind the glass doors of executives’ offices. This shouldn’t happen. You need to act quickly once a decision is made to fire an employee. Don’t waver from difficult decisions because you’re influenced by your relationship with the employee or have uncomfortable feelings on your end.


Under no circumstances must you pull an Up in the Air. Remember that George Clooney movie where a newly-hired Anna Kendrick suggests they fire employees via web chats? Ask yourself – is this an ethical way to fire someone? Over the phone, on Twitter, or via email – these are all absolute NO’s.

Only two people should be in the room when you’re delivering the news, you and the human resources manager. If you don’t have an HR department or representative, pick a trusted employee or even your business’s lawyer as a witness.

Having a witness comes as a blessing when a scorned ex-employee comes back at you with a lawsuit. A witness can confirm you acted legally and ethically while firing the employee.


What do you do when a PIP doesn’t do any good? Before you even set up a meeting with the to-be-fired employee, you must ensure you’re right on top of the logistics involved in the firing process.

IT Make sure the terminated employee no longer has access to company devices, files, clients, etc. All passwords must be deactivated immediately.

Benefits Be sure that whoever is handling insurance plans, 401K, etc. is notified that so and so employee is being terminated. The terminated employee’s final paycheck needs to be planned in advance. If possible, you must also explain to them how unemployment works.

Non-compete clauses and non-disclosure agreements Be sure to look through NCCs and NDAs that employee has signed so that you’re aware and can remind them of the same.

WE Repeat, Make Sure Your Actions Are LEGAL And ETHICAL

Even if the employee on the other end of the chopping block is being let go of for their own doing, it is the most humiliating and shameful experience. Let there be no berating language. Be stoic. Under no circumstances should you fight back, should they become angry and resort to yelling.


You’ll find thousands of pages on Google filled with arguments for any day of the week to fire someone or any time of the day for that matter. Many seasoned executives say that you must let go of someone as soon as you’ve made the decision to fire them, no matter which day it falls on the calendar. Hang around the decision will only make the employee work longer than necessary.

Firing someone is an unpleasant experience. And let’s face it: there’s no way around it. In spite of that you can make it as smooth as possible, and protect your legal and financial interests by treating the ex-employee with courtesy on their way out.


Jay Raol

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