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Terminating an Employee is Never Easy (Conclusion)

LLOYDMINSTER, Saskatchewan — In my many years of business, from time to time it was necessary to discharge an employee. I found it difficult the first time and equally hard the last. It is a safe assumption that if you must discharge a member of your staff, particularly one who has been with you for some time, it would be equally difficult.

When this person accepted a position in your drycleaning plant, both parties were optimistic. However, with some, not everything works out as intended and there must be a parting of the ways. Some may go amicably, some will be fuming, while others threaten legal action for wrongful dismissal. No matter which, it is always engenders intense emotions for all parties—you, the discharged employee and those who remain.

The potential for litigation makes this situation still more onerous. If not handled with discretion, it could generate a costly-to-defend lawsuit. This could also apply to “constructive dismissal,” whereby the creation of an oppressive environment forces the employee to leave. Oversights made before, during the exit interview and after the discharge can significantly affect both employer and employee.


I suggest following these steps:

  • On a confidential basis, begin with a detailed investigation into the situation. Assess both cause and effect. Consider what action to take.

  • Ensure that the problem or allegations are real and have been or can be substantiated.

  • Have a “sit down” with the employee and discuss the problem or allegations in a non-prejudicial manner.

  • Give the employee every opportunity to respond.

  • If the problem is rectifiable, seek an alternative solution to dismissal.

  • Most importantly, when you are certain that the problem(s) cannot be resolved, do not sweep it under the rug. Act with discretion and candor.


Having concluded that there is no other alternative, take a day or three to plan the exit interview so that it creates a minimum of distress for both you and the employee.

Be certain to provide a detailed explanation of why you are taking this action. Be clear about the reasons, and document them. Avoid personal, degrading or vague statements, and saying anything that might suggest that the situation is reversible. Consider the possibility of an irrational, negative, combative reaction and perhaps an appeal.

Having reached this point, do it now, not tomorrow or next week. Never allow an employee a few days or weeks to get his/her things in order. This only permits this person to do nothing to further your business but to perhaps badmouth you. Resolve the concerns you or the employee have about confidentiality. Whether to provide the employee a termination letter setting out your reasons is argumentative.


Some employees may think you have acted too harshly and prematurely. Others may wonder what took you so long. Saying “It’s not your concern” or something of this sort may not cut it. You must gauge yourself as to how much explanation is required and you are prepared to give. There is no definite rule as to how to deal with these situations. Play it by ear and hope for the best.

Although not legally required, you may wish to provide a valid reason for the termination. Because of concern about being liable for defamation of character, or the reverse in which you give a non-factual “glowing” recommendation, it is probably best to provide only the date of the termination.


Discharging an employee, particularly one who has been with you for some time, will always be stressful for everyone involved in the act. Because of the possibility of the situation getting out of hand, be certain to go about it carefully, methodically and with forethought.

Know and understand the protection given to employees by the laws of your state. You could be sued for a tort action, wrongful dismissal and prejudice, including punitive damage for pain, suffering and anything else that comes to some high-priced lawyer’s mind. Be cautious. You can legally discharge an unsatisfactory employee but doing it hurriedly can too easily backfire.

Information in this article is provided for educational and reference purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or individual recommendations. Consult an attorney for advice regarding your particular situation.


(Photo: © iStockphoto/Imageegaml)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].