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Letting an employee go is never an easy duty. Even the most experienced manager can balk at the process of cutting ties with a long-term worker when the time comes. However, pruning the company tree can be a necessary step towards improving performance, increasing efficiency and reinvigorating your workforce.  One of the most important questions you have to ask yourself before letting an employee go is: is this the only way out? 

Below you’ll find some questions that will help you during the employee termination process.

Your HR specialist will recommend asking essential questions before you terminate anyone’s employment in order to prepare yourself for any sort of legal backlash. You cannot just let someone go because you feel like it, you must follow procedures in your company contract or handbook. 

As a small business you really need some form of HR consultancy on your side. If you don’t know where to start, you can join the NFFF which has its own HR module in its membership or, for something a little more comprehensive, you can talk to Peninsula or Mentor by Natwest.


Ask yourself if the employee could possibly assume that their termination is based on age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, nation of origin, or political affiliation. Of course, in your mind, you’re not letting them go for any of those reasons, but you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and determine whether they see it that way or not. 

Avoid a discrimination case by getting your HR advisor to outline in detail (in writing and preferably with witnesses) exactly why you’re letting this person go.

Is It Personal?

There is something to be said for weeding out bad employees, one bad apple really can ruin the whole bushel. However, before you terminate anyone’s contract, you have to ask yourself if you’re letting your personal emotions get in the way of your professional judgment. Does the employee in question rub you up the wrong way? Have you clashed in the past? Do you have a history outside the workplace that makes the workday unbearable? If you answered “yes” to any of these, you may be letting your professionalism slip.

Why Did I Consider Termination?

If your first thought was to fire the individual, examine your rationale. Did you want to open the position for another employee? Were you frustrated enough to jump to a conclusion? Are you getting pressure from above? All of these can affect your judgment without you even consciously realising it. When you’re considering termination, it should always be for the good of the company.

The Right Behaviours

Your employees look up to you. If they see you “getting away” with certain things (long lunch breaks, personal phone conversations on company time, shirking of duties), they will think it is also okay. Before you can terminate a worker for unacceptable behaviour, make sure you’re not engaged in it as well.

Expectations Too High?

Goals provide measurable milestones with which management can assess employee performance, but the key component of effective goals is reasonability. You don’t want to set your employees up to fail, but how do you know when a goal is reasonable or not? Listen to employee feedback, monitor performance, and dissect failure with a fine-toothed comb.

Did the Employee Have Adequate Skills and Resources?

If you give an inexperienced employee an important job and they drop the ball, the failure may be on your end, not theirs. Likewise, if you limit your employees’ effectiveness by failing to provide necessary tools/equipment, you can’t blame them when things go pear-shaped.

Can This Employee Improve?

If improvement can be made, you can save an employee’s professional life while possibly uncovering a diamond in the rough. This may include remedial training, job coaching or a mentor program.

Will Firing This Employee Affect Others?

Workplaces are webs of personal and professional relationships. You can’t cut out one employee without having some sort of ripple effect. You have to fully consider what firing one individual will do to the rest of your employees. Consider the disrupted workflow, increased workload, and personal feelings of fellow employees before signing that slip. You must have a plan to move forward without your employees feeling demotivated.

When All Else Fails

If you’ve asked yourself all of these questions and still can’t come up with a valid reason for not letting an employee go, it may be time to let the axe fall.  However, there is a right way and a wrong way (well, multiple wrong ways really) to go about doing it. The overall goal of termination, once you’ve decided it’s the only option, is to remove a problem employee and replace them as quickly as possible. 

Here are some termination tips:

1- Always have advice from ACAS or HR consultant (see above), do not wing it. 

2 – Have evidence read – performance reviews, disciplinary documentation, company policies.

3 – Keep it short, explain and show proof but don’t open it up to debate.

4 – Get them on their way. Don’t let outgoing employees linger, give them a timeframe for vacating the business. If it is a nasty break up it might be worth putting them on garden leave.

Letting go of an employee is never easy, but hopefully these tips will help you decide if it’s truly time to say goodbye and to start hiring someone new.

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