March 20, 2015

an exit interview will be next for this former employee

At CEDR, we’re often asked “Is it OK to fire someone over the phone?” Many employers feel that firing them over the phone would give them a far less likelihood of a confrontation and things going bad.

However, using the phone is not a great idea.

First, in some states, you are required to issue the final paycheck, including any earned and accrued vacation, at the time of termination.

Also, if you’ve been documenting things, this is the best opportunity for you to deliver a well-written termination letter giving the employee a legitimate reason for their termination. Keep it simple, factual, and leave out the temptation to tell them what is wrong with them and/or how they could fix themselves.

Here’s an example of a good conversation:

After careful consideration, we’ve decided you are no longer a fit for our team. Specifically, over the past three months you’ve been late on at least 6 occasions, and I do not feel that your assisting skills meet our standards.

During this final in-person interaction, it’s also worth noting that many employers learn about a key piece of information that they did not know.

Well, since you are firing me anyway, you should know that your associate is a pig and is harassing all of us when we work in the satellite office.

However, this is not usually the case if you take the phone call route. Therefore, the first you are likely to hear of this key piece of information will be from his/her new attorney or the EEOC. Worse, they may make up their termination reason for you and it will have little to do with the facts.

Working with people and maintaining dignity needs to run the entire life span of an employee. That means terminating with dignity as well. Covering your butt and giving a lawful and supportable reason for termination is how you avoid litigation.

Firing with Dignity: Do’s and Don’ts

Terminating employees is a necessary part of being an employer. However, terminating in a way that leaves both you and the employee with your dignity intact is an important skill to develop.


  • Work to end the matter in less than ten minutes.
  • Stick to a predetermined process so there won’t be any defending of your decision, arguing, or back-pedaling on your part.
  • Plan to use a private setting for the termination and have a witness present with you during the termination.
  • Terminate at the end of the day or at the very beginning of the day before patients show up.
  • Have the employee’s last check ready for him/her at the time of termination, as well as an exit interview form with a self-addressed stamped envelope. (Check with CEDR regarding payment of accrued vacation which may be required in your state.)
  • Tell the employee, in as few words as possible, why you are terminating him/her and hand him/her a termination letter and an exit interview form.
  • Consider the matter closed and not open for discussion.
  • Listen to the employee as they vent or comment, but DO NOT answer or defend.
  • Gently, but with certainty, ask the employee to clean out his/her desk and turn in company property. Then escort him/her out of the building.
  • Make notes of any accusations he/she makes, including threats.
  • Lock down your computer systems. The last thing you want is an irate employee to try to delete appointments on his/her way out the door, forcing you to be faced with having to physically stop them.


  • Make comments like, “you have done a good job up to this point, but….” or “it’s not your fault.”
  • Agree to reconsider.
  • Allow yourself to get caught up in the emotion of the termination process. If the employee begins to vent, respond with “I am sorry you feel this way. My decision is final. Now please clean out your desk and turn in the company property.” (if applicable)
  • Lay your hands on the employee.
  • Hesitate to dial 911 or inform the employee that you are considering calling the police if you feel you’re in danger.
  • Make any statements based on opinion. Only the facts will support you in the future.
  • Give a letter of recommendation to soften the blow. It will be used against you.

If you have any questions about terminating an employee so that you’re covered legally, please call us anytime toll free at (866) 414-6056 or sign up for a free HR consult with one of our employment law experts. One of our Solution Center experts will assist you, and there’s no cost or obligation.

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Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.