How to Let an Employee Go – The Right Way

Letting an employee go is an eventuality in any business. Whether it’s the product of a change in direction, a rift between the employee and employer, or the product of an unprecedented and unexpected downturn caused by a global pandemic, it’s going to happen.

Releasing an employee isn’t an enjoyable experience for anyone, but there are right and wrong ways to go about the process. The wrong way makes it more difficult for everyone involved.

Are you in a situation where you need to release an employee? Then, this guide is for you.

First, Make Sure It’s Legal

If you’re in an at-will work state like Washington, then you can terminate the employee’s relationship whenever you need and without providing a reason.

However, it’s important to remember that your decision to release an employee needs to be legal. Even if you know you’re in the right, it’s a good idea to double-check that you aren’t in violation of any federal law (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972) or state law before you have the difficult conversation.  A good measure to deploy in advance of any discussion is to validate your decision with your HR or legal department.

If you’re reading this in April 2020, remember that you can’t release employees for taking medical leave.

Be Clear About What’s Happening

One of the worst things you can do when releasing someone is to be vague, unclear, or otherwise hide the reason you’re letting them go. No one should walk out of a building wondering what just happened.

Use plain language and keep it specific and brief. You should also skip any personal judgement’s that may create tension.

A simple rule to follow is to be as clear with your communication as you are when you hire.  Ambiguity creates unnecessary conflict.

Keep Your Internal Team Informed

In any office, you’ll need to let at least one other team member know what’s happening. Usually, it’s security, HR or the IT department, who will update all relevant systems.  Depending on the scenario, you might also want another witness in the room.

Make sure you inform all necessary departments of your actions before the meeting, so that all the details can be carried out swiftly. Having your systems at the ready will better prepare you to deal with any fallout.

Don’t forget to have any benefits information available, so they can take it out the door with them. Let them know what happens next with any retirement accounts, health insurance, severance or other benefits, so they don’t need to call you at a later date. If they can use you as a reference make them aware and include your business card in the packet.

Let the Remaining Employees Know

Leaving the remaining members of your team wondering what happened can create uncertainty that undermines your relationship and eats into your staff’s productivity. Let them know what happened, why, and if more cuts will be made in the future.

Then, you’ll stop essential staff from seeking employment elsewhere unnecessarily.

Whether hiring or firing, you’re entering a new milestone with your worker, and it’s best to treat the situation with dignity and clarity wherever possible.

Looking for a true workforce partner?

Are you looking for help with HR management? Transcend Solutions is a workforce partner with years of experience through boom times and tough times alike. Get in touch to learn how we can help you meet your staffing needs.


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