One of the hardest parts of being a small business owner is terminating employees.

Often, employees have been with you for a long time and may even feel like family.

But, unfortunately, letting employees go, whether for cause or not, is a fact of business ownership.

These tips from the employment law experts at Walter Law Group can help you appropriately manage the termination process without major drama.

Follow The Law

Even if you only employ one other person, it’s critical that you know the laws around letting employees go.

Know the anti-discrimination laws that protect members of certain classes and ensure you aren’t terminating someone for those reasons.

It’s always better to have cause to fire an employee, especially if you have been documenting their behavior or performance issues.

Even at-will employment has its limits and may not apply at all, particularly if you’re in Canada.

Follow Company Policies

Document your company’s determination process and follow it. It’s not necessary to have a massive employee handbook that outlines every possible termination situation, but you should have a process in writing that your employees can reference and that gives you a step-by-step guide on documenting behavior and performance issues and implementing the consequences. 

Apply Policies Uniformly

Even if you have favorite employees, it’s critical that you have the same termination policies for everyone.

termination gff25f299f 1280

If you allow one employee to get away with something that another person is fired for, you’re asking for trouble.

Certainly, you don’t have to let the entire company know when you’ve given someone a warning, but if the employee’s behavior or performance issue is apparent to everyone, they are going to know when you’re not following your own policies. 

Don’t Surprise Employees With Termination

When you fire someone, it should never be a surprise. If you have a written termination policy and you’ve followed it, the employee should know the termination is coming.

For example, if your policy is to give one verbal warning and the written warnings before following through with termination, the employee will know when they’re on their last written warning.

Be sure to document the verbal warning as well so there is a written record of action.

Choose An Appropriate Time

Even if you primarily communicate with an employee over the phone, by text, or by video conferencing, it’s always better to terminate someone in person.

Give them the news privately and allow them to ask questions. You don’t have to answer them if you don’t want to (particularly if you’re laying someone off for company-related reasons), but be as transparent as possible.

Try to fire employees at the end of the day when everyone else has left to avoid a scene.

Be Direct And Clear

Getting called into the boss’s office can be scary and if you beat around the bush by talking about the weather or a local sports team, you’re just dragging out the inevitable and prolonging the employee’s stress.

As with a band aid, it’s painful to rip it off, but once it’s done, the pain starts to lessen.

This is true for firing someone as well. They might be angry or upset, but they can start to move beyond it.

Do not hint at termination, as this can lead to misunderstandings and other unpleasant situations. Make sure the employee understands that they are no longer working for you.

There are plenty of ways to tell an employee they are fired without being mean, but clarity is critical for the employee’s sake.

Have A Witness

If you have an HR department, have a representative from that department with you when you terminate someone.

pexels mikhail nilov 8847043

Having another person in the room helps keep the situation civil and under control as it is less likely an employee will react angrily if there is a witness.

Moreover, the additional person can help you prove that you followed procedure and the law when terminating the employee should they file a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against you.

Inform The Rest Of The Company, But Keep It Brief

It’s natural for the rest of your employees to want to know the details of why someone was let go, but other than telling them the person is no longer employed, do not get into the reasons behind your decision.

Turn the discussion away from the termination and toward how your company will respond to covering that person’s duties.

Will you be hiring someone else? Will another employee handle those responsibilities? These are the things that impact your remaining employees, so focus on them instead.


Letting employees go is an unpleasant task for anyone. These tips should help make it easier, but if you are in doubt about employment laws and whether or not you’re following them, contact an employment lawyer for advice.