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Top 10 Legal Tips for Firing an Employee

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

Every boss can use a few tips when it comes to firing employees. Through booms and busts, profits and losses, the discomfort that comes with terminating an employee rarely subsides.

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to help prepare for a termination meeting and prevent a simmering ex-employee lawsuit.

Here are our Top 10 legal tips for firing an employee:

  1. Set the appropriate tone for the meeting. The key is to strike a tone of being understanding and empathetic. That being said...
  2. Be direct, but respectful. No employee wants to hear the dreaded words "You're fired." But people being "let go" can also do without your ridiculously sugarcoated euphemisms such as "reallocate" or "demise."
  3. Provide a justification. Clarity helps to ward off legal issues, so eliminate conjecture by providing specific and concrete reasons for the termination.
  4. Keep a paper trail. Retain copies of performance reviews, relevant correspondence, and other personnel documents in case a legal issue crops up at some point.
  5. Clearly state what will happen next. Explain the protocol for pay, benefits, unused vacation time, outplacement, and other post-employment considerations.
  6. Keep information confidential. Only inform individuals on a need-to-know basis of the impending termination. No soon-to-be axed employee deserves to receive news of this nature through the gossip-mongering grapevine.
  7. Form a plan for reference requests. A bad reference in mudslinging form may lead to a defamation suit, but a dishonest reference can lead to negligent misrepresentation lawsuit. Use the performance reviews to be objective and honest in your reference.
  8. Ask for the return of company property. After the employee is terminated, provide an inventory checklist of company property the employee must return, such as keys, access cards, laptops, and proprietary documents and data.
  9. Conduct an exit interview. Employee exit interviews are a great way to glean valuable information from your soon-to-be former workers. But make sure to keep the interview legal.
  10. Let the employee say goodbye. A termination can turn ugly when a newly minted ex-employee makes a scene. A way to try to diffuse the tension is to allow the employee to collect his or her belongings and say goodbye to co-workers. Show your appreciation and be understanding. No one likes getting sacked.

For more information on what steps you should take before firing an employee, check out FindLaw's section on Employment Termination.

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