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In any company, startup or otherwise, an inevitable situation will arise: the time to terminate an employee. How do you let go of an employee the right way, without burning any bridges?

Here are some tips to make a difficult situation if not better, then go a little smoother without damaging any relationships.

So how do you terminate an employee without burning bridges?

1. Preparation Before

Set Clear Expectations

Before we get into any business of firing anybody, make it clear to all employees of all the rules, expectations, and behaviour that would be grounds for immediate termination. Don’t wait until the behaviour is already occurring.

Performance Appraisals

Giving regular performance appraisals keeps everyone and everything in check. Evaluate at least once a year and document all the performances, and whether they meet the set expectations and job requirements or not.


If an employee is under-performing, discuss with them on ways to improve. Set clear deadlines or milestones for when they need to be improved. This way if they have improved, you will not need to let them go; and if they have not improved, they would have had fair warning.


Keep records of all performance appraisals, disciplinary actions, and related interactions to document that your decision wasn’t without warrant. If any legal action were to be taken, you will be prepared.

Know the Rules

Know the company rules for terminating someone. There may be specific steps required by the company.

Be Sure

Make sure you have the right decision, with the right reasons that led you to let go of an employee. The decision should be fair, not one you made in the heat of the moment. Except in the case of zero tolerance policy violations, firing should be the last step in a structured process.

2. Consider Personal Factors

A great many number of things could be affecting your employee’s performance. Consider that there may be external circumstances in your employee’s life that may be affecting their performance temporarily. Ask them if it may be the case.

Such factors could include health, death or illness in their family, divorce, trauma, financial problems, etc. These are all part of life and these challenges can cause even a valuable employee to lose focus.

Keep in mind that these can be temporary, so consider it before terminating them. Firing someone during these times can be cruel and may paint a bad picture of your company.

Talk to them and give them an opportunity to resolve these things and then improve their performances.

3. Give Appropriate Notice, But Don’t Delay

As soon as you are aware of any performance problems, be sure to communicate it to them promptly. Don’t let it go on for long.

Once you’ve made a decision to let go of an employee, it’s best to do it as soon as you can, keeping in mind the proper processes as mentioned above.

Holding it off could weigh everyone down; whether the problem is under performance, attitude, or simply the case of not being right for the job. Keeping an ill-fitting employee longer than needed is harmful for both the company and the employee who could be finding a job with a better fit elsewhere much sooner.

3. Privacy

Do it somewhere private, not in the open or in front of others. Ideally, the deed can be done in a room during lunch hours or after hours.

Done this way you may preserve the employee’s dignity, as well as reduce the amount of whispers and rumours mongering around the office.

4. Be direct

When the time comes to let the employee go, it’s best to be clear and straight to the point, without dilly dallying in small talk.

You may brace the person for the bad news first by telling them the purpose of the meeting straight away. Be clear and firm, but not mean. Avoid ambiguity as this will lead to the employee into thinking that they have a chance at swaying your decision, which isn’t good and just deepens the heartbreak.

Just be civil, blunt, and straight to the point.

5. Keep It On Track

As best as you can, try to deliver the news gently as the employee may be emotional and may get angry. You should remain firm and calm in the exchange. If the employee gets angry or lashes out verbally, just let them do it. It may be what they need to get off their chest before they can deal with the emotions of getting terminated.

Don’t let it devolve into an argument or a discussion.

There is no need to go into a lengthy explanation. If all the necessary steps above have been taken, the reason should be clear enough.

6. Offer Recommendations

Speak of the person you let go with respect. Often times, the people we have to let go aren’t awful people. They might just not be the right fit for the job.

You can try to help them with their job search by offering to give them a recommendation regarding any aspect of their job in which they did do well. It could be their inter-personal communication skills, creative ability, or any other skill they possess.

Why offer recommendations? Unemployment can cause stress, and with all that time at hand, the mind can go to dark places. The shorter the time they are unemployed, the less angry they will be and thus they will not seek out to damage you.

Thank them and wish them good luck in future endeavors.

7. Offboarding

Explain the terms of separations concisely: such as returning company assets, handing over any access cards, clearing up the work space, etc.

Remind them of any legally binding agreements they may have signed, such as not disclosing company secrets.

8. Lay-off Benefits (If Necessary)

This is good for both parties: Funds as a compassionate way to help them make it through a tough time; in exchange, no damaging legal battles as the employee will be less likely seek revenge in anger.

So here’s what Regulation 6 of the Employment (termination and lay-off benefits) Regulations 1980 has to say about Termination and Lay-off Benefits:

  1. Ten days’ wages for every year of employment under a continuous contract of service with the employer if he has been employed by that employer for a period of less than two years; or
  2. Fifteen days’ wages for every year of employment under a continuous contract of serviced with the employer if he has been employed by that employer for two years or more but less than five years; or
  3. Twenty days’ wages for every year of employment under a continuous contract of service with the employer if he has been employed by that employer for five year or more, and pro-rata as respect an incomplete year, calculated to the nearest month.

9. Communicate

In your meeting with the employee, agree on how the news will be conveyed to the rest of the company and the public.

Try to limit office gossip by informing the rest of the office instead of just being silent. With silence, people will try to fill in the story themselves. Keep it professional, not personal. The risk of having any ‘poison arrows’ are not good in any format.


Every manager must lay off their own people. It may not be pleasant, but often, it is necessary for the growth of your team. Hopefully with these tips, the exercise of termination wouldn’t have to be so horrible. It may be even rewarding in the long run.

This article was written by Munira Hamzah with the title “How To Let Go of an Employee Without Burning Bridges” and was first published on Wobb, a job application platform for millennials who value the importance of good working culture. 

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)