Women got fired

Time to say goodbye: How to fire someone

How do you cope with the difficult job of firing someone at work? Find out in this guest blog post by Brighton-based freelance copywriter, Amy Smith, as she shares insights from her previous role.

Picture the scenario. It’s Monday and it’s 8am. You have a telephone conference at 9am followed by an HR consultation where you will decide the fate of someone’s employment at your company. You have a full day of tasks ahead, as well as the inevitable sacking. Plus, you have an entire life outside of work to cater for. Does this sound like a nightmare yet?

This was me, one year ago. I was in charge of around 100 people, all professionals and every working day felt like a battle against the odds just to wade through it.

It was just after Christmas of 2016 and I had landed myself a job in a senior management. I initially loved the fancy new phone, new laptop, work car, and title. But it quickly became apparent that this was child’s play compared to the actual work and responsibility that came with them. The bread and butter of my job (the part that earned the good salary) was going into work places and doing what is called “recovery”.

Recovery means clearing up the mess that had been left by past management. This involved, very often, carrying out investigations into people. And more often that I’d like, firing someone. Put it this way, no one was ever happy to see me.

Let me be clear — there is no way to do this nicely. You are doing something that will inevitably end in tears. And that’s your best case scenario.

So, how do we get there? And what do you do when you’ve come to the conclusion through deep investigation that there really is no other option?

I’m going to share with you some things that I’ve learned in the hope that should you have to fire someone — you do it the best way possible for both parties.

1. Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork

Ok, so we are here. It’s the morning of the final meeting. I’m presuming, of course, you’ve followed procedure to the T (and I really mean that) and that you’re going to tell this person that the decision has been made. And it isn’t a good one.

For goodness sake, have every inch of paperwork with you and make them a copy. Have the initial statements from them, have the anonymised statements from others, have the policy statements they have broken, have the contracts. Have everything.

When it comes to doing this, do it right. Because if you’ve made a mistake, you don’t want to be sitting in court explaining why. Be clear, be transparent, and have your integrity intact.

2. Face to face

If you’ve been employed to do this task, it’s because you aren’t afraid to speak to people face to face.

Don’t ever do this over the phone. Because you can’t face it, tough luck. The other person has to face this reality, so you sure need to too.

For the very least, it’s a matter of duty of care. I certainly wouldn’t want to tell someone they’ve been let go and then wonder if they’ll do something rash.

Be kind, be considerate — this is a big deal. One of the best reasons I was qualified for this job was the fact I’d been sacked. I knew exactly the weight of what it meant to lose your job.

women having a conversation

3. What to say when it goes right

Here’s the best case scenario:

  • you explain what’s happened
  • you explain the consequences
  • they accept they’ve done something wrong (more often than not gross misconduct else we are talking warnings, not sacking)
  • they graciously accept the decision

I’m sorry to tell you that in my experience, and my peers, the best case scenario is very, very rare.

However, if it does happen — it must be a blue moon — but thank them for their professionalism, do not judge them, shake their hand and wish them well.

If you’re good at your job, you’ll even mean it.

4. What to say and do when it goes wrong

Here’s the thing: it’s going to go wrong, you’re going to have tears. Just take it. You’re going to have tempers flying. Just take it. You’re even going to have threats. And, guess what? Just take it.

You’re a professional and you’re going home with a salary. They aren’t.

The reactions I’ve had usually are because of embarrassment. And because they’ve been found out. Bare in mind I’ve done this as a result of thorough investigation into wrongdoing. We are talking theft, bullying, racism and sexism. And often this results in tempers flying.

Their temper may fly. Yours won’t.

I recommend saying nothing other than repeating your statement: “You regret to inform them…”.

Give them a copy of your decision in writing. Tell them how to appeal and end the meeting gracefully.

Only once have I had to call security. And all that did was prove the decision made was the right one.

5. Cry and shout if you have to (later)

So, it’s not gone well. You’ve been called every name under the sun. And you’ve been threatened with all sorts.

You end the meeting. You keep a polite smile as you leave and you get in your car and by god, you let rip.

Cry, scream, shout, have imaginary responses to their words (am I alone in that?). And you do some self-care. Your wellbeing is paramount and you’ve just done a very stressful thing.

Look after yourself. This isn’t easy but it’s true. Someone has to do it.

hand brushing wheat


Every time you do this, you’ll learn something new. Every time you deliver bad news, it’ll get better.

All I’d say is if it becomes “easy”, or if it becomes second nature, it’s time to move on to something else.

I really can’t stress enough the importance in remembering the human behind the job. I’ve certainly made mistakes before and you will have to. Who are we to judge?

In the many times I’ve done this, I’ve never really taken pleasure in it. I’ve always been certain it was the right thing to do. And, often, it happens after chances that perhaps other employers wouldn’t have given.

At the end of the day, the gravity of the role I had was heavy. If you have the difficult job of firing someone, remember, you can do this. That’s why you were chosen. Good luck! And never underestimate the power of a good cup of tea afterwards.

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