What to Say When People Ask Why an Employee Was Fired

There will come a time when you have to let an employee go. This already difficult task is made even more challenging when other employees or even customers ask why an individual no longer works at your company.

For the most part, you’ll want to consider two questions: 1) how transparent should you be regarding the situation? and 2) how will the news affect employee morale?

If you do have to let an employee go, here are some helpful tips to consider when delivering the news to your team.

Say something 

If an employee is there one day and gone the next with no explanation from management, it can create unwarranted rumors, fear of layoffs, and/or distrust with management. Sweeping the issue under the rug may be easier, but failing to communicate the departure is a decision you’ll likely regret.

Avoid the F word

Best practice is to not use the word “fired” when communicating an employee’s termination. Nor should you broadcast that an employee was “terminated” either.

Keep it simple

The key here is to say enough without saying too much. To respect the privacy of the terminated employee and to limit company liability (if the firing prompts legal action), leave out any nitty gritty details and keep personal opinions and emotion out of the explanation. Simply saying that “Jessica no longer works at the company” and providing next steps regarding the transition of the vacant role should suffice.

Head off rumors

If the terminated employee was close with other employees, you can bet they’ll be sharing their version of what happened—regardless if it’s true. While you don’t want to rattle off the news without first processing your thoughts, the longer you wait to communicate the termination, the greater the chance that rumors will brew.

Consider the delivery

It can be tricky to strike a balance between delivering the news for practical reasons while remaining sensitive to staff morale. Tailoring the delivery to your company culture and operations is key. For instance, an email might be too casual or too cold if your company is on the smaller side. On the other hand, calling a formal meeting might be too time consuming (and too disruptive to workflow) if you’re part of a large organization.

Reinforce company policies

If an employee still has questions or is unsettled by the news, remind them that all personnel matters are treated with confidence and that you respect that policy for every employee. If they have concerns related to their own position or how the departure of a co-worker affects their department or responsibilities, then that’s a dialogue that you can have without releasing information that should remain confidential.

Letting an employee go is not easy and managers must carefully consider how they communicate the termination to the rest of their team. The important thing to remember is to break the news without breaking morale.