How do I fire someone?
December 1, 2012 6:52 AM   Subscribe

I am a new manager. I have to fire my employee on Monday. Help me plan this conversation.

I am in Canada. My employee is performing poorly so we're firing him. My boss is preparing the paperwork and we plan to do it on Monday. My boss and I will both be in the room, but I am the one to fire him. I feel sick about it.

For those of you that have been there - please help me. Give me any tips or tricks to help the day of firing or the conversation of firing go better.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (35 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
A labor relations attorney friend of mine once suggested to me that, when firing someone, I start the conversation with "I think you know what this is about." He said most of the time the person will immediately agree, since folks generally know when they're doing poorly. This conversation was in jest, but he had a point.

I'd have specific examples of this person's problematic performance prepared in advance in case there are questions, but don't frame the conversation in a way that invites the person to argue or angle for another chance. I'd state what the person's position requires, how he/she fell short (keep this as concise as possible) and explain that I've made the decision to terminate him/her. I also would make sure to have a "next steps" plan laid out so that I could clearly explain it: the termination effective date, any arrangements regarding the person's final paycheck and the return of any company-owned materials, etc.

Good luck -- this is by far the shittiest part of being a manager.
posted by justonegirl at 7:02 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Echoing justonegirl -- this is a "here are the facts" conversation. You are 1) delivering information, then 2) making sure the information is understood clearly. It's not interactive, there is no appeal, and to a large degree it doesn't matter what the employee says at all beyond "I understand". So you can easily script it with a bunch of bullet points on a list.

It's like pulling off a bandaid. Hurts, but all you have to do is follow the script and get it done.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:07 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Canada, evidently, does not hold much to the "at-will" concept of employment, as does the US. As a result, you might want to read this and discuss it with your boss/HR people if that hasn't already been part of the process.

And, as someone who recently settled a wrongful discharge case (I was the employer), trust me that you want to make sure all your ducks are in a row before you say a single word.

That said, I have always made these conversations as short as possible. Remember that it isn't a discussion, it is a one way flow of information: "You're fired because x, here is the process to empty your desk/remove your belongings, you have our best wishes."
posted by HuronBob at 7:10 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

How well do you know this person? If it's someone you have a relationship with then try to make sure they know it's all business. I'm not sure what Canada's laws are about what you can fire people for, but when I was let go last week I was just told that I wasn't a good fit. No other explanation because they didn't need one and it closed the door on any wrongful dismissal lawsuits.

If you don't have a relationship then it's pretty much the same thing except you don't have to worry abut making sure it's all about business.

The timing of the firing is also important. Do they have a chance to screw you over? If they're really bad then getting rid of them before the shift might be the way to go. If they can't really mess things up then go ahead and let them finish the shift.

I've been let go 4 times.

1 - Really just a demotion from cooking back to washing dishes. But they told me at the start of my shift which I think was bullshit since I could have killed someone. Not that I would have, but that's not important. I did get to do that shift on the line.

2 - Told at the end of the shift I had 2 weeks to find somewhere else because if I was still there at that time I was being let go. Probably the best one I've had since I had income while I was looking for another job. Don't ask me about that one unless you want a way to detailed story.

3 - Management found out I was looking for something else and decided to let me go. Not really a big deal in itself, except that they told me right when I showed up for work. So I took the time and gas to drive out there only to find out that I didn't really need to. And this was after talking to them on the phone and assuring them that I had no intention of skipping out on shifts I was already scheduled for.

4 - I was told at the end of my shift that I was done there. No chance for me to screw anyone over. No chance for me to walk out. It was also the end of the pay week and the last day for that paycheck, not sure if that had anything to do with it but it did mean that I only had to go in once to get a paycheck. I was also told that I would be given good recommendations and to make sure I used them as a reference since it wasn't that I was bad for the industry, just for them.

2 and 4 were my favorite, for lack of a better word. I still got to work. I didn't have a chance to screw anyone over. 2 was obviously better but if they need to be gone now there's nothing you can do about that.

1 also works fine if there's no way they can do any real damage. I'm in food. I'd never tell someone before a shift that they're being let go and then give them a chance to work. One of my friends was let go by the same place in the same way. She was the bartender and made sure to tell all her regular customers that that was her last day and where they could go see her in the future.

3 just sucks ass, especially if it's out of nowhere. They took the time to get to work. Depending on the hours they didn't get to do other things because they expected to be at work. Try to avoid that one if you can.

If you're open today I might even call and tell them today if you don't want them working Monday. But people can do some bad things when you take money out of their hands.
posted by theichibun at 7:12 AM on December 1, 2012

You note the paperwork is being completed, but have you checked the employee had been through all the stages of warnings etc necessary for your location? I know our US cousins are happy to sack people like its nothing but does the same apply where you are, if not sit down and work out all the stages that should have been gone through for the employee and make sure they have been and this is clear in their record. Someone is pushing to get your fingerprints on this and it is your responsibility to make sure it is done right if you are due to pull the trigger.
posted by biffa at 7:17 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Trial by fire is never fun.

Just as the others have said, keep it about the facts. Keep it brief. Don't let them drag you into an argument or explanation.

Before you go into the meeting, give yourself a few minutes to read through the termination reasons so they're fresh in mind, then spend a couple of minutes just breathing deeply and relaxing yourself as much as you can. Shake out the tension, maybe do a couple of knee bends (I know that sounds nuts, but the physical build up of stress is a huge part of what makes stuff like this uncomfortable).

Afterwards, do the same tension-releasing things and, if you can, do something positive, like thank a committed employee for their efforts or the team for their latest success.
posted by batmonkey at 7:19 AM on December 1, 2012

Have all the paperwork printed and in a folder - copies for them, copies for you. Make sure there's a box of tissues somewhere nearby in case they cry. A step-by-step checklist of what steps need to be taken is very very helpful, e.g. Give Bill his termination notice. Confirm Bill has read it. Ask Bill to sign it. Countersign it.

It is best if you can have their final paycheck ready so they can leave immediately and not have to come back. Timing doesn't matter except they must then be given the rest of the day off - you can't fire someone and expect them to finish a day's work. Give them some time (supervised) to clear their desk. Deny them access to their work computer if you think they'll be vindictive. They shouldn't have anything irreplacable and personal on it anyway. Remember to get all keys and cards, and the very same day, change passwords on accounts.

The biggest thing I have learned is to be quiet and not argue with them. They are having a horribly horrible day, no matter how much they knew it was coming or deserved it. Being quiet and repeating the points in a calm voice is about all you can do. You might try saying that this job was not a good fit, that they have a lot of potential and will find a better position somewhere else. Acknowledge that this is very difficult for them and don't try to apologize or point out good stuff - just factual statements and quiet.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:20 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

You should also make it clear to the employee whether the ROE will say A, shortage of work, or M, fired and if M, what the reason will say. (As a general rule, employers choose A unless there is actual misconduct.)

This should be done subtly, but you don't want them to stress about eligibility for EI.
posted by jeather at 7:22 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't drag it out. I was recently in the room when my boss fired someone and he went into a long confusing description of the whys and wherefores before actually letting the person know they were gone. It was just torture. It's a worse day for them than for you, however crap you feel about it, so remember to give them all the facts they need instead of nervy chitchat. A checklist or list of talking points may help.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:33 AM on December 1, 2012 [12 favorites]

Your HR department probably has a lawyer on retainer. Call them. Better to check up before you get wrecked up.
posted by Yowser at 7:43 AM on December 1, 2012

If possible, try to think about it this way: your company and your employee are in a relationship that isn't working out. Having this conversation is the way each entity moves on to something that is better. Your employee is surely not happy in this job that isn't working for him, but he may feel trapped or obligated and unable to leave on his own. The job market is better than it has been in a while, and he will hopefully find something to which he is better suited.

This is not to say it is easy - I had to fire someone on my first day of my first post-college job, and it was awful. But over time I've come to think of it as a real gift, done skillfully, to let someone out of something that isn't working without dragging it out into something ugly. Best of luck to you.
posted by judith at 7:55 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am the #2 in the room when people at my company get fired. Our firing guy has a script that goes roughly like this:
OK, [name], I think you know what this is about. And there's no easy way to say it, but we have to let you go today. We have this letter prepared [hands letter] that explains the particulars of the situation, but essentially, we tried to work with you on your projects to find a way to help you complete them better. We offered a number of solutions, but none of them were effective. For those reasons, we can no longer continue to have you at [company]. We do want to make sure you're taken care of during this transition period for you, and have prepared a severance package. This contract [hands contract] explains that in return for the package, you won't [talk shit about the company or sue us]. Please take a few moments to look it over. [Gives a few minutes, hands pen.] Do you have any questions for us?
For all the major suck that the firings are, this seems to be a pretty gentle way to break the news. So far, it's gone reasonably well.
posted by phunniemee at 7:55 AM on December 1, 2012 [51 favorites]

I've always relied on Ask a Manager on those sorts of things. She's never steered me wrong. Even if you don't manage anyone, the site is a great resource.
posted by juniperesque at 7:56 AM on December 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

I've been fired, and it's really embarrassing to go back to my desk after finding out. If it's possible, for the sake of being a decent human being, notify this person about this meeting in such a way that everyone else doesn't know what's going on. In other words, don't do it like my former boss did: Walk up to the cubicle of the person about to be fired, and tell them in a loud voice that you need to speak to them in private. It's bad enough to do the walk of shame back to your desk, but when all your cube farm neighbors can figure out why, it's brutal. If there's any way to catch this person as they're walking in the door, before they settle in for the day, please do.

And I don't know how much choice you have in the matter, but it's really dehumanizing to be escorted out of the building by security, box of packed-for-you personal effects in hand. The one thing my former boss did that saved me a bit of face was he let me come in that Saturday to clean out my desk. I know this may not be an option for you, but if so, please consider it.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:02 AM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

From my answer to this askme:
In general, the ticket to making the firing go easily, or at least not as bad as it could, is to be very rational about it, and to not return emotion with emotion. Keep a level tone, stick to your decision, and discuss it in terms of "these are the performance requirements we had and communicated to you, and here's how you failed to meet those requirements."

Above all else, once you decide to fire the person, they're fired. The actual meeting is not an opportunity for them to beg and plead for their job, and you should not encourage any discussion of how they can stay. You are meeting with them only to inform them of your decision and what will happen following.

In my experience, people being fired will usually grasp any opportunity to retain their dignity by keeping it calm and business-like. Give them that opportunity.
posted by fatbird at 8:39 AM on December 1, 2012

Phunniemee has a good script.

Keep it short and to the point.

What ever you do, DO NOT go into specifics or in any way attempt to justify or explain the decision to the person. It is not a discussion, it should be a one way conversation except on the details of how they exit. The 2nd person in the room should be ready to step in to reinforce the finality of the decision.

The courtesy I used to extend was to ask if they wanted to go say goodbye to people or whether they wanted privacy. This assumes there was no company risk. Most people wanted to say good bye. When they did want privacy, I called the staff into a conference room, explained the person was leaving and that we were giving them their privacy.

Afterwards, honesty is always the best policy with remaining staff. No details. Never EVER bad mouth a terminated employee. Stick to, "It just wasn't a good fit." But being able to address your employees concerns openly is key to maintaining a good relationship.

This kind of thing never gets easy, but you do get to fear it less. Layoffs are much harder than termination for cause.

Good luck.
posted by Argyle at 8:46 AM on December 1, 2012

I had a supervisor email me, when I was in the middle of a month off that is required for state "temporary" employees. ("Temporary" is in quotes so you understand that what they really mean by that is, "Employee we tend to keep around indefinitely without ever giving them raises or benefits".) She wanted to "set up a meeting" with me to come in on my unpaid month off, so she could tell me that they weren't going to renew my contract. Then I imagine I would have been escorted out by security, since that's what happened to everyone else who was fired or not renewed.

Now, she didn't tell me that this was her intention, but I was pretty sure. She had been looking for a guilt-free way to get rid of me since the day she was hired. So I made her do it over the phone, so I didn't have to go in there and experience the kind of degrading situation that SuperSquirrel is talking about. The call was kind of ridiculous, but it went okay. (Although I am never going to understand what was meant by, "You didn't do anything wrong, and I like you as a person, and we should all totally hang out in the future, but we're not renewing your contract".)

I'm not saying to fire the person over the phone. I'm saying that it's cruel to make him come into work and then fire him as soon as he gets there. Wait until the end of the day. Or find a way to ensure he doesn't have to interact with any other employee on the way out. The other employees will put two-and-two together in no time, but give me a buffer zone in which he can make his exit and no one notices yet.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:46 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ha, I mean "give him" a buffer zone. But give me one, too, if you're ever firing me.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:55 AM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

A lot of good advice about how to handle the discussion with the employee being fired.

I would add that most likely the employee's colleagues are going to want to know what happened. [I am a manager who unfortunately has had to fire people.] Don't get into a discussion of what happened. "Joe is no longer employed at Our Company" is sufficient explanation. Joe may talk to his colleagues who might come talk to you to confirm/deny his side of things. Don't engage.

There is going to be some workplace drama out of this. Your job is to minimize the drama and get the team back to work. I also think that it is only decent not to gossip about the person being fired.

Good luck -- this is one of the tough parts of the job, but it is important to manage poor performance for the rest of the team that is pulling their weight.
posted by elmay at 8:56 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

SO much good advice upthread. I'll just add three things from my perspective as someone who has had to terminate more than a few people's employment:

*If your employee wants specifics about performance, don't allow the conversation to turn into a debate about particular incidents. Stick to broad descriptions of problems *that you have already documented and that are part of the rationale for termination*.

Sometimes people want to use this as a time to argue, point-by-point why your rationale is not correct. But at this stage, if you are actually in the process of firing them, you should not have any doubts at all about what you are doing. Just don't engage.

*A lot of people respond badly, so be prepared for that. Some people cry, some people yell, but you just need to be empathetic yet firm. Imagine what a disaster it would be if you tried to fire a person and then allowed them to stay because they cried. Steel yourself.

*Be ready with clear, concise answers to questions, including 'What happens next?'.

Have the name of an HR contact ready to answer specific questions about severance, benefits, back-pay, recommendations, etc., if you do not have those answers ready.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:39 AM on December 1, 2012

I'm answering with my sockpuppet because I just had an awful experience getting fired. I know that every mope in prison is innocent, but my termination was a snow job and handled very poorly. Even though the reasons my boss was firing me were pretty much bullshit, the process itself still could have gone a lot better.

My first step if I were you would be to sit down and objectively review the communications that you had with your employee about their performance. Make sure there's documentation and if you haven't, write up a brief a summary of what you talked about. Do a thorough job refreshing yourself on the course of events that led to this person's firing. Not because you need to get into a tit for tat with them, but because you should feel confident that you did everything you could to help this employee get back on track. If you didn't, you need to have a good rationale for why not, i.e. the skill level they came in with was too far below what you needed that you couldn't remediate it with training. Don't say you did everything you could or did things you should have done but didn't actually do.

I personally would find it very condescending if the conversation started with "I think you know what this is about." Unless you have had repeated conversations with this employee about their performance, put them on some kind of performance improvement plan with a deadline and firm criteria, and let them know the consequence of failure was termination, and the deadline has passed, they may not know that you're bringing them into this meeting to be fired. It seems to be a popular part of the script, though, so maybe there is some management research on the benefits of this phrase that I'm not aware of.

I would simply start by saying, "Employee, I am very sorry to have to do this, but we need to let you go." The rest of phunnieme's script is excellent, as long as you actually have tried to offer solutions for performance improvement.

Most managers at my previous company would have someone packing up the person's belongings while they were in the meeting being terminated. Part of this was taking their company computer to IT for processing so they didn't have access after being fired and couldn't tamper with the equipment or files. Then they would bring their box of personal belongings to the termination meeting so that the employee could leave straight from there without having to walk back to their desk and do the sad pack-up themselves. I think this was a win/win/win for the employee, his peers, and the company's interest in maintaining order.

My manager, on the other hand, did not make this arrangement for me. So the HR person told me instead that my manager would bring me my bag and my lunch and then they'd ship me the rest of my things at a later date. I had some fragile personal things on my desk and things in my desk that I'd need for the weekend, so this was not ideal from my perspective and kind of a pain in the ass. It also meant my manager was outside of the room for the majority of the conversation, which was not helpful.

My company gave me time to review the severance agreement and this was one of the few things they did well. I think I had two weeks to look over it and return it. I ended up having a couple of questions about the severance agreement that I wouldn't have thought to ask if I had been forced to sign it or walk away. This is a very emotionally charged time for the employee and it's kind of coercive to insist that someone who has just been fired start signing away their rights in exchange for money.

You also need a plan for how you're going to let this person's co-workers know they were fired. As soon as this person leaves the building you should let the affected co-workers know what happened, ideally in person but over the phone if people are working remotely or out of the office. Don't hesitate to leave a brief message saying, "Hi [so-and-so], it's [so-and-so], I just wanted to let you know that I had to let [terminated employee] go today. Their termination is effective immediately. Whenever you get a chance, I'd like to talk to you in more detail about this decision and how their work will be handled. Give me a call back or we can discuss when you're in the office next. Thanks."

Do not do what my manager did, which was tip off her favorite co-workers of mine and tell them not to come in because I was getting fired, but fail to formally tell other of my co-workers that I had been fired until after the weekend. Those co-workers found out because I sent a polite goodbye email to my team thanking them for the opportunity to work with them and encouraging them to keep in touch.

Really, it will be very hard to do worse than my previous manager did. :) If you've done the pre-termination work of talking to this employee about their performance, you will have gone a long way toward making this go smoothly. In general, keep things brief, be honest, and be a human being. Have the logistics taken care of so the terminated employee doesn't have to worry about how they'll get their stuff home and when they'll get paid. Good luck!
posted by lamechopz at 10:31 AM on December 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

To follow on what lamechopz said, I've been let go (for something that was somewhere 'tween a lack of work and a snow job) and think this This contract [hands contract] explains that in return for the package, you won't [talk shit about the company or sue us]. Please take a few moments to look it over. [Gives a few minutes, hands pen.] Do you have any questions for us? is absolute shit.

Likelilhood's overwhelming that the person's gonna be more than a little shaken up; presenting that in a way that's, "take it right now or leave it" is unnecessarily unprofessional and personally shoddy.

The least you can do is give the person at least 72 hours if not the end of the week to consider it, get back to you with any questions, etc.
posted by ambient2 at 10:40 AM on December 1, 2012

From my experiences...don't be at all surprised if the employee claims that he/she DOESN'T know why they are being fired.
I've had employees receive verbal warnings and later a written letter from the Director on what they needed to do to keep their jobs.
And then at the firing, they said they didn't understand that their job had been on the line.

They may also try to get you to admit something by repeating things like "I know you're firing me only because of Mr. X doesn't like me. Isn't that right?" Don't even answer charges like that at all--just go on with the checklist of information. It can be really difficult not to engage, but you just won't help the situation.
posted by calgirl at 10:59 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Empathize. Stop and spend 10 minutes thinking how you'd like this to happen if you were in that seat.

Try not to let him feel abandoned or alone and be honest that you hate to do this, if that's the case. Sometimes, work and employee pairing doesn't work out. It's not a character flaw, it's a fit issue.

Be as kind as you can. That doesn't mean roll over or equivocate, it means caring. The man is losing his job at the holidays.

All the other legal crap has nothing to do with your humanity or his, and is a distraction to being a good person and a good manager.

I've done this a lot, and always thought in terms of how I'd want to be remembered by the deceased! Better if it's as a friend who had a bad fit with your company than as a discarded human nuisance. He will find a fit somewhere. He will grow if he's like most people, maybe slower, perhaps, but this is the start of a better fit for him, too.

Someday, perhaps YOU WILL be in that seat. Karma, man.
posted by FauxScot at 11:23 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

IAAL in the US who recently had to let a secretary go. The script that Phunniemee provided is excellent. The biggest thing to keep in mind is not to say anything conciliatory during the firing because it could potentially used against the company in a wrongful termination suit. For this reason, I was not allowed to fire my secretary myself or even be in the room because she was very well liked and we were friends who had been guests in each others homes. I surely would have said something nice that would not have been helpful. Keep it short and professionally courteous.

If you have an HR person, she needs to be involved as she has likely fired many employees before. I also recommend that the HR rep be in the room with you when this happens. Talk with your HR person because she can give you the best advice.

If you have no HR person, use Phunniemee's script. As others have said, this is not a conversation. Recite the script and then they are gone. I am sure your company has policies for this, which will probably include having this person escorted from your firing meeting to his desk to be emptied.

I do not envy you this task, but part of doing your job is to make sure your subordinates to their job. That also means that your boss will be paying attention to how you handle this task. Really, you are the one in the hot seat, not the fired employee. Bear that in mind as well.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:39 AM on December 1, 2012

Tell them right away that they are being fired, and that it is not negotiable. The facts should be in the termination letter, and you don't have to repeat them. The letter should also state how much vacation pay they will get, when they'll get their final check, what their benefits options are, etc. If you will write a reference letter, say so, and include a sample*. Make plans for them to clean out their stuff; have some boxes available.

Be calm, courteous, and as kind as possible, but be clear that they are fired, today. If they need to rant, let them, but not for longer than 5 or 10 minutes. No need to argue, just "I understand you feel that way, but this is the end of your employment here." When you've conveyed the info, and asked if they have any questions, stand up, offer a handshake, and wish them well.

During the meeting, someone in IT is terminating their access. You may want to give them read-only access to email for some period. Make sure you know what keys, credit card, laptop, phone, etc., they have, before the meeting. One employer gave me an old laptop when they laid me off; they were down-sizing and it was easy for them, and nice for the many laid-off staff.

*A reference letter can say "X is prompt, volunteers for assignments, enjoys working with customers, looks for opportunities for training" and more, without saying "X abuses sick time, does poor quality work, customers avoid her, and her Mom dresses her funny" etc. State any positive facts of the employee's work, and don't say, "I recommend X" unless it's true, which it isn't. The employee may do better at different job, or with different management.
posted by theora55 at 12:10 PM on December 1, 2012

Phunniemee's script is the one we use in my workplace (minus the "I think you know what this is about.") The only thing I would add is to think about how the person is getting home. We paid for a cab for one woman because her husband was not expecting to pick her up until 5pm and we fired her at 9:15am and she was very upset. We always ask if they are okay to drive home, etc. Also, people need to be fired as soon as they arrive. Not sure how I'd feel about putting in a full day's work when my boss knew the whole time he was getting ready to fire me. It gives them the day to process, make calls etc. We give them all that paperwork and they have 48 or 72 hours or something to sign it, seek legal advice etc. The only thing they sign in the meeting is a document confirming they received the other documents.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:06 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone's advice is excellent, so I'm just chiming in at this point. Firing someone does suck, even when it's warranted. I was also sick to my stomach just before and had to go take 15min after the employee left to calm myself the first two times I had to let someone go.

One key thing my HR person told me was, say it within the first three sentences. They usually know something is up and this keeps it from dragging out. Be succinct and say why in the same sentence. Example: Hi, thank you for attending our meeting. Unfortunately, we are letting you go today for [insert reason - poor performance, restructuring, etc]. Here is [paperwork], etc. Do you have any questions?

Also, keep the entire meeting short and give them contact info for follow-up information. It's common that after hearing they are being fired, they aren't really understanding/listening to too much and won't think of any questions until after they've left.

Good luck!
posted by getmetoSF at 1:29 PM on December 1, 2012

Also, people need to be fired as soon as they arrive. Not sure how I'd feel about putting in a full day's work when my boss knew the whole time he was getting ready to fire me.

We fire at the end of the day. The other side of this coin is the fired employee can ask, "why didn't they let me sleep in? I came in just to turn back around." Also, doing it at the end of the day doesn't allow the surviving staff all day to gossip and speculate, be lookie-loos as the desk gets packed, and otherwise be distracted or distractions.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:56 PM on December 1, 2012

Preferably, you should fire on a Thursday or Friday so the transition is easier for both the team (won't gossip as much) and the individual.

I strongly disagree with statements like "you just weren't a good fit". Especially if you repeat them multiple time when the person asks why (yeah, I have seen this a few times). Give general statements and offer to schedule a meeting with them in a few days/weeks, off company property, where you can give them more specifics. It gives them closure, especially if you can spin it as "it's not you - it's me"; such as suggesting an employee who is chronicly tardy that a more relaxed industry/company would be a better fit.

Do NOT do the walk of shame accompanied by a manager/security guard unless you have serious concerns the person will become violent. Humiliating them again is unnecessary.

Canadian employer law is a lot more complex than what the US has. I would make sure you have covered your ass in terms of liability, I've seen a couple of mid-managers lately blindly follow orders and then get thrown under the bus when the violations (that they should have known but didnt) were revealed.
posted by saucysault at 3:58 PM on December 1, 2012

1. Start with "I think you know..." as suggested above.

2. Stick to the facts of dismissal. Answer any questions honestly and unemotionally. Be factual.

3. After you relate the bad news, inform them of every thing you can do for them. "HR will give you advice on how to handle your insurance..." kind of things. If they ask for a reference, either say "I can do that", or "I am not allowed to do that, by company policy."

4. Direct them as to what they need to do in the next hour. Be escorted to collect their personal belongings, gather their stuff on their own, go directly to HR, whatever. They'll be semi-in-shock, and need direction to get moving.

5. It's OK if you cry, bite your lips, or visibly look unhappy. It's not ok to avoid eye contact, or start a very personal conversation. (Caveat: if you know them well, you can do the personal thing.)

6. HR should be present. They owe you that much.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:53 PM on December 1, 2012

One alternative I've heard (not firsthand, fortunately) to "I think you know what this about" is, "This is a difficult conversation for me to have with you." I suppose it might come across like it actually is a conversation (and not a one-way information-relaying session on your part), but maybe a different tone that would work in some circumstances.
posted by Rykey at 5:16 PM on December 1, 2012

It's about the performance and the position, not about the person. Be quick, be direct, and focus on the conclusion: "We're letting you go. Thank you for your work here. This is what is available in severance/unemployment/etc. Please take a moment, Z will be outside when you are ready to clear out your desk." End it quickly and make sure Z (not you) is ready to help them out of the building ASAP.

Conversations about performance and potential improvements should be done and put to rest by now - if is not the case and if you have any concerns about liability, talk to your company's lawyer this weekend.

Under no circumstances turn this into a personal conversation. It's not about how difficult it is for you or whether they should have seen it coming - that's irrelevant and opens the door to further personalization of this very impersonal process. This also isn't the time to justify your decision. For both sanity and liability, deliver the message and facilitate a quick exit. This sucks so much for everyone involved but you have this small power as a manager to make the experience a tiny bit more humane.
posted by SakuraK at 9:28 PM on December 1, 2012

Be very careful about allowing access to a computer or anything else. When my former boss fired someone she told him she needed some time to compose herself before driving home so he let her sit at her desk. Then she managed to password lock her computer!
posted by Melsky at 3:11 AM on December 2, 2012

Don't have too much to add except that when thinking about paperwork and legal requirements, cheque the labour laws for your province. Employment standards differ somewhat between provinces and there are things you need to complete for both levels of government.
posted by Kurichina at 8:44 AM on December 3, 2012

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