This is a delicate subject.  There must be a gentler way of saying that you need to let someone go.  Some call it “letting go,” “dismissals,” “downsizing” or “permanent layoffs.” but whatever the case it is not pleasant.

The main rule of thumb in dismissing an employee is to be kind, brief, and not say too much.  There is nothing pleasant about the experience.  The following are some suggestions that are helpful.

First, here is the law:

Q. Can my employer fire me without having a good reason?

A. In Utah, as in the rest of the United States, employment is considered a contract between you and your employer. Most employees do not have a written contract or a union agreement that governs the particulars of the employment agreement and are thus considered employees at will. Generally speaking employment at will means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or no reason, just not an unlawful reason. See discussion of “at will employment” below.

Q. What is “at will” employment?

A. Employment at will has evolved over time from the old rule centuries ago that employment was for a full year, unless the employer and employee had a specific understanding that the employment was for a different period. This has changed over time to the point that now in Utah as in most States, the law presumes that the employment is “at will.” In other words, employment is at the will of either party. As long as both parties want the job to continue, it will. Either party, employer or employee, can terminate the job at any time, at will.

Source: http://www.havaslaw.com/employment_law.html

Second, suggestions to consider:

There is considerable information available to help an employer let someone go with dignity.  One of the most useful articles is found in CIO Magazine on page 72 entitled: Fire Right.  Ten Secrets of Letting Someone Go With Dignity  It is found on line at: http://www.integctr.com/News/EarlierNews7215.asp

Tips from outplacement experts on how to fire people without bruising their egos.

“GIVE WARNING: All performance-based firings should begin with a warning or probationary period. If you let employees know they’re on the bubble, they just might turn things around. If they’ve put in years of service, it’s the least they deserve.

DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT: Once you’ve told an employee he’s on probation, document every task and interaction. The better records you keep, the easier it will be to justify your actions should you find  yourself defending them in legal proceedings.

TIME IT RIGHT: Fire early in the day and early in the week. The worst time to terminate an employee is the day before a weekend or holiday.

PREPARE THE PAPERWORK: Don’t wait until after you fire an employee to deliver termination paperwork. Pay, including any benefits and unused vacation, should be  delivered on the spot. This is not only good policy, frequently it’s the law.

DON’T GO IT ALONE: Having a representative from the human resources department in the room adds a sense of gravity and finality to the termination conversation. And if the employee asks a question you can’t answer, your expert is right there. It also provides a witness on your side should you end up in court.

ENSURE PRIVACY: Make it clear that only you and the HR rep will take part in the  termination meeting. Reassure the employee that nobody else will be in on what’s happening. Neglecting this will make him self-conscious.

BE BRIEF: Say what you have to say, say it clearly and don’t say any more. Prolonging the meeting allows the employee to believe he is involved in a negotiation — that there may be a way out. When he realizes there isn’t, he  will feel betrayed.

WATCH YOUR TONE: Choose your words carefully, but make sure you convey a tone of cordiality and sympathy. Be compassionate  but firm, honest but guarded. Never say, “I know what you’re going through” — even if you do.

SEEK FEEDBACK: Although its important to keep the meeting short, encourage the employee to voice his feelings after the news has been delivered. If he doesn’t answer immediately, count to 20 before moving on. The last thing you want is a reputation for being heartless. If recriminations result, however, take charge and cut him off; remember that you’re declaring him fired, not engaging in a dialogue.

GIVE A GOOD SEND-OFF: Always offer words of encouragement and confidence in the employee’s future career. Stand and  extend your hand to indicate the meeting has ended. And of course, thank the employee for his service. But don’t be surprised or hurt if the employee declines to thank you for firing him.”

A great resource on line entitled What to know about letting a person go is found at:


Letting an employee go is never as easy as “You’re Fired!” After all, you are dealing with a delicate subject, a person’s livelihood should never be taken lightly. Not to mention the fact that this situation is often as stressful on you and your remaining employees as it is on the employee being fired.

Once you have gone over the preliminary steps involved in firing an employee and the potential ramifications that have to be considered, legal and otherwise, it is important that you “stick to your guns” and not prolong the firing any further.

However, there is a proper way to go about firing an employee, and there are guidelines you can follow to ensure the firing process goes smoothly for all parties involved.

Keep It Quiet

It is important that you carry out your intentions with class. Only the employee’s direct supervisors should be told about the termination decision in advance. An advance leak of a firing can only worsen the situation, while keeping it quiet allows the employee to save face.

Privacy, Please

You have to consider the best location for letting someone go. Sharing this type of news with a possibly unsuspecting employee should never be done in a public setting, with “public” being defined as anywhere others can see or hear you. Also, it should preferably not be done in the employee’s office, as your employee may consider you to have invaded their “turf”. The best location would either be in your office, with the door closed, or in a neutral setting like a conference or break room.

It’s About Time

It used to be the general consensus that late Friday afternoon was considered the ideal time to drop the hammer on an employee. But experts in the Human Resources industry now believe that earlier in the day, or even the week, is a more appropriate time to deliver the bad news.

Quick and Painless

After deciding upon the right time and place, gather the employee and any other managerial personnel together and get to the point quickly. Briefly explain to the employee that they are being fired. Summarize the main reasons for the firing. If you are offering severance pay, detail the severance offer, and present the employee with the forfeiture document to be signed if the severance is to be paid.

Also, now is the appropriate time to answer any questions the terminated employee may have, even if they interrupt you. A termination can be extremely emotional, so don’t be surprised if the employee doesn’t hear the basic message or doesn’t understand the details of their firing. You may have to restate all or part of the termination.

Once you and the employee appear to be on the same page, explain to them any post-termination work options. Some employers offer to let the employee clean out their office or desk now, or you can mail any personal belongings to them later. If the employee elects to have you mail their belongings, have two people oversee the cleaning process to be sure that all of the employee’s personal possessions are mailed.

As long as the employee does not lose control, extend him or her every reasonable courtesy and offer the person an opportunity to say good-bye to former co-workers. He or she will only call these people on the phone later anyway. Should the employee lose control and become verbally abusive, ask them to vacate the building immediately. Do not get upset. It is important for your remaining employees that you handle the situation with respect for yourself and the employee being let go.

Of course, the process of firing an employee is never easy regardless of how well you plan or all of the precautions you take. But if you adhere to these guidelines, you may find that it can go better than expected.