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  • Human Resource Dimensions

Mistakes to Avoid During Termination

Terminating an employee is not an easy task. Sometimes there can be negative feelings that arise when said employee is asked to leave their position, and this can lead to an even more difficult dismissal. In this post, we will go over the mistakes you should avoid during the termination process.

Mistake #1:

Misinterpreting At-Will Employment When an employee is being terminated, the “at-will” dismissal is not absolute. It is on the employer to provide evidence if any issues should arise. For example, if a discrimination claim is brought up by the employee, stating that they are being dismissed on the premise of rage, gender, pregnancy, or disability, it is up to the employer to provide proof that none of the claims have occurred. However, this can put employers in a tough spot because many times there is little protection for the company in regards to these discrimination claims. Remember that when you are terminating an employee, there is always a risk of backlash by said employee.

Mistake #2:

Surprising the Employee

When terminating an employee, he/she/they should not be surprised by the termination. To avoid surprises, it is best to address performance issues early and directly so employees know what you, the employer, expects of them. When addressing these issues, you need to take into consideration whether the employee needs coaching or progressive discipline. Below is the distinction between the two:


1. Ongoing conversations

2. Often includes offering tools to help employee improve

3. Employee helps to identify issue and find solution

Progressive Discipline:

1. Verbal

2. Written

3. Final Warning

Coaching is fairly simple, as there is a lot of one-on-one with the employee. However, progressive discipline can be more open ended as to how to proceed with it. This technique demonstrates good faith, as it’s primarily used to give employees with behavioral or performance problems time and opportunity to improve. Here are four of the best practices to use when progressively disciplining:

1. Create a system that works for your organization

2. Whatever you pick, stick with it

3. Don’t be too specific with your employee handbook as every case may require specific actions and so your managers have some discretion

4. Document each step in the process

Mistake #3:

Making the Employee Unnecessarily Uncomfortable

Be compassionate. Remember that while this meeting may make your day unpleasant and uncomfortable, it will affect the terminated employee for much longer. So here are some questions to ask yourself when terminating an employee:

  • When and where will you have this meeting?

  • When will the employee be expected to leave?

  • How will the news be communicated to other employees?

Mistake #4:

Making Excuses, Apologizing, or Changing Your Story

A truthful explanation shows that you respect them enough to be honest. Watered-down reasons, or otherwise apologizing may give the employee false hope that the decision is not final. Below are some tips to keep it concise and straightforward for both parties:

  • Be truthful and clear

  • Remain calm

  • Stick to your answers

  • Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself

  • Don’t feel pressured to expand on your reasoning for the termination

  • You may need to end the conversation if the employee escalates to physical violence or repeats the same questions over and over

Mistake #5:

Setting Yourself Up For an Employment Claim


  • Conduct the termination with at least 2 HR or management representatives present

  • Document the process

  • Keep your explanations consistent

  • Consider severance agreements in certain situations


  • Terminate for bad reasons

  • Take allegations as facts - conduct investigations as necessary

  • Fire someone unless you can defend their termination to an outsider

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