You became a manager because you enjoy working with people. Employees flourish under your leadership. It’s encouraging to help others become successful.

But when the opposite happens and you find yourself having to fire someone, you feel terrible. You don’t want to hurt someone’s career, their self-esteem, or their livelihood.

Firing someone is never easy. Not the first time or the hundredth time.

From Warning to Dismissal: Six Steps to Take During the Termination Process

There are things you can do to make it easier, though. These action steps aren’t quick. A fair and transparent process takes months. But, when you follow the right steps, you’ll find that you can fire someone with sensitivity and tact and avoid potential lawsuits.

1. Identify the problem

Unless your employee has done something illegal or contrary to explicit company policy, then their problematic behavior doesn’t automatically warrant termination.

First, ask your employee if there’s anything they want to talk to you about. External factors often impact work performance and attendance. Knowing what’s going on outside of the office can inform your response to employee problems.

As soon as you notice something wrong with your employee’s performance, you should issue a verbal warning. You don’t have to threaten termination, but you do need to discuss the problem. Explain why the employee’s behavior is an issue, create an action plan, and write it all down. Make sure to let the employee know you’re dedicated to helping him or her get this problem resolved. Don’t forget to have the employee sign off on a written document that states what you’ve both agreed to do to fix things.

2. Create a written warning

If, after a verbal warning, the employee’s problematic behavior does not improve, it’s time to get more formal. Start documenting dates, times, and actions related to the problem. That documentation should jump start a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

A PIP is used to coach employees that you believe are capable of fixing the problem. With the help of a PIP, you and the employee identify additional training that could improve performance. You should also set goals for target behaviors and clear, reasonable deadlines.

If an employee doesn’t seem willing or able to make improvements, you can skip the PIP. It’s an investment in time and resources for employees you feel are committed to your business. For everyone else, use a progressive discipline warning form. This document states the problem and agreed upon solutions. But unlike a verbal warning, the progressive discipline form lists consequences if certain expectations are not met.

Follow-up is important. Don’t sign the plan and then ignore the employee until milestone dates.

3. Talk to HR

When the written warning doesn’t change the problematic behavior, it’s time to start the process to terminate employment. Most of this work goes on behind-the-scenes, so you’ll need some support.

Check with HR to find out company policies around firing employees. Make sure everything you’re doing is legally sound and not leaving the company open to a potential lawsuit.

The HR team will probably use a checklist to make sure all of the details of an employee’s termination are completed efficiently and respectfully. They will work with IT to ensure the employee no longer has access to the company network or files.

4. Decide on a plan for after the termination

When you’re planning on firing an employee, you need to consider your whole team’s work schedule. Losing a member means everyone else has to pick up the slack. Check your team’s shift planner to find out who else has the availability and capability to cover the work.

If you don’t have an online shift planner, you’ll have to find a subtle way to discuss upcoming vacations and time off with remaining team members.

5. Have the talk

When it’s time to actually let your employee know that he or she is being fired it’s best to keep it short and simple. Be direct. Come right out and tell the employee, “I have some bad news, your employment with our company is being terminated as of today.”

Be sure a representative from HR is in the room so that information about pay and benefits can be provided. The employee should be reminded of any non-compete or non-disclosure agreements that were a part of the employment contract.

People react in different ways to getting fired. Some become very quiet, while others yell and get angry. Don’t engage in an argument and don’t apologize. It may feel cold and callous, but it’s not. You’re helping to de-escalate an already tense situation.

6. Take the time to rebuild confidence

After you fire someone, you’ll feel terrible and so will the team. In some cases, they’ll understand what happened and why, but in other cases, the team will be surprised. They’ll likely feel nervous about their own job stability. Reassure them that their jobs are not at risk and that you appreciate their work. Acknowledge that it will be difficult for the next few months, but also help them focus on a successful future.

As for you, know that feeling upset or guilty is normal. But also know that if you followed these six steps, you did the best you could in an unfortunate situation.

Managers are often feared for their power to retain or fire employees. You might have the power, but you don’t wield it lightly. The decision to let someone go isn’t easy, nor is the process by which it happens. Take the time to do it right.

Lisa Andersen
Lisa Andersen Content Editor
Part of Planday’s content team in Copenhagen, Lisa is into yoga and loves good writing. Her experience includes working with communication and PR for international grassroots organizations in Argentina and Bolivia.