How to Fire Someone Compassionately

Do’s and don’ts of giving an employee the worst news.

How to Fire Someone Compassionately
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[Read: 5 Secrets You Should Know About HR.]

DON'T wing it. Consult with HR and perhaps also with your company's lawyer to script what you may say and what you absolutely shouldn't. For some states and occupations there are disclosure requirements that determine what's appropriate to reveal to the employee about the reason behind the firing, and ad-libbing on your own could open up the possibility for lawsuits, plus it leads to miscommunication. Remember, "they probably will only hear three of the 10 words you say – 'You are fired,'" Ruettimann says.

DO put it in writing. If you've ever been fired or laid off, you probably had a flurry of questions you didn't know to ask until later. That's why Ruettimann advises giving your employee something he or she may read and refer to later. "It's important that whatever you communicate verbally should also be communicated in writing," she says. "Whether it's a folder or even something just as simple as a letter communicating their firing."

DON'T perp walk them out of the building. If you can spare your colleague the embarrassment of collecting his or her belongings while the entire office looks on, followed by needing an escort out of the building, then do it. This type of treatment breeds resentment in the fired person and affects the remaining staff by inspiring gossip and clogging productivity.

DO offer some dignity and privacy, if possible. "Try firing them at the end of the day once some employees have left, or you could also let someone go at lunchtime," Ruettimann says.

If your office's security policies allow it, Ruettimann suggests you "Advise them to take a long lunch break and come back at a designated time to pack up their belongings. If you prepare ahead of time, you can arrange to have their email closely monitored during that down time, and you can have their security access shut off."

[Read: Are You Going to Be Fired? Watch Out For These 5 Signs.]

DON'T go into hiding. Leave your calendar as open as possible on the day, particularly if the termination is for budgetary reasons, not misconduct or unsatisfactory performance. It's neither mature nor professional to avoid the person in the awkward aftermath. Ben Horowitz, co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, writes on his blog: "Be present. Be visible. Be engaging. People want to see you. They want to see whether or not you care." According to Sutton, "Everyone feels better about it, plus you may find that you want to hire them again or hire their friends in the future."

DO offer help. You don't have to be a professional reference if you don't feel you should – you did just fire this person, after all – but maybe you could pass along a job lead for something he or she is better suited to do. Or you could send information on networking opportunities and events. Sutton recalls advice from Michael Dearing, founder of Harrison Metal, a firm that invests in technology companies, and the former senior vice president and general merchandise manager of eBay: "'There's a difference in what you do and how you do it.'"