An HR lesson in FBI Director Comey’s firing

by Michael Haberman on May 15, 2017 · 0 comments


There is a good way to terminate employees.

Unless you have been at the bottom of the ocean or on Mars, you know that James Comey was fired by President Trump. Comey was the FBI Director and found out about his firing while on a trip. It was announced on TV and he saw it announced by a news station while making a speech. Regardless of your politics, regardless of whether Comey’s behavior warrented the firing or not, that is no way to fire someone.

How to conduct a termination

In my many years of being in HR I have participated in many terminations. Even as a consultant I have sat in on terminations for my clients. Here are my suggestions on how to best do a termination.

  1. Make sure termination is what you really want to do. Don’t do it lightly. It screws up someone’s life.
  2. Do it in person if possible, and have a witness. Or if the person is across the country do it by phone. Email or text message if the coward’s way out. Suck it up buttercup. Making an announcement to the news is not much better.
  3. Do it in private, not in an open forum.
  4. Be direct and to the point. Don’t argue. Stick to the facts. Don’t get into personality issues. Focus on the work. Don’t make personal judgments, such as announcing someone is a “grandstander.”
  5. Maintain your dignity while helping the employee maintain theirs. Do not be demeaning or disrespectful. That causes anger and people will be more likely to take action against you if they are angry.
  6. Do it near the end of the day or at the beginning of the day. I also recommend doing it midweek, not Friday. Give the person an opportunity to make a move to looking for their next job or to file for unemployment. They cannot do that on the weekend as easily as during the week.
  7. If you feel the employee will display violent behavior have someone standing by, even going so far as to alert your local police.
  8. Make sure you cut off all email, computer access and phone access as you perform the termination.

Never easy to do

Though business managers and HR people are often portrayed as ruthless, most of them are not. Terminating someone, even for outrageous events, causes concerns. It has a negative effect on the person being fired, on the coworkers of the person fired and on the person doing the firing. So it behooves you to do it correctly.


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