The best way to reduce your chances of facing a personal grievance when you dismiss an employee

The five emotions of breakup

You will have heard the expression “the calm before the storm”. It is always there however fleeting, so be scared. The calm is that look on your partner’s face just before she reaches for the soup. We call that emotion “shock”, which (sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly) is always followed by anger. Then once the anger is gone, the aggrieved party heads into resentment where he or she feels the victim – “why me?”!

What happens from there depends on the individual. Either the person moves to the next emotion “acceptance” and then from acceptance to “hope” or the agreed person gets stuck in the shock, anger, resentment loop.

So whether you are breaking up with your partner or dismissing an employee, there is a pretty good chance that this sequence of emotions will be triggered. Your job as the instigator is to do your best to get the aggrieved person from resentment to acceptance as quickly as possible.

How to get your employee to accept the dismissal

The problem with any form of emotion is that it makes us become subjective i.e. we view things from our own perspective. A dismissed employee will adopt a very subjective view of the dismissal. Your job as the employer is to help the employee view the dismissal from an objective view point.

To do that, the most important thing you can do is adopt an objective view when making your decision to terminate the employment relationship. It is easy, (as an employer), to get caught up in the emotion of a dismissal particularly if serious misconduct or non performance issues are to blame. However, if you can be objective then you have a better chance of getting your employee to do the same thing.

Coincidently, the law requires you to be objective too.

How to be objective

It’s easier said than done, but you must try. One option is to get legal advice. Hopefully, your legal advisor will force that objectivity upon you. If you don’t then the best advice is to put yourself in the shoes of your employee and ask yourself: “what would I take issue with if I were dismissed in these circumstances?”. If you pause and force yourself to examine the dismissal from that perspective your decision making process is more likely to be robust and you will come across as a fair and reasonable employer. But it doesn’t end there…

Communicate your objectivity

Making your decision from the standpoint of a fair and reasonable employer alone won’t do the trick. You must also communicate that objectivity through the termination letter. The termination letter is probably the biggest weapon in the employer’s arsenal. Get it right, and you could save yourself from a personal grievance. Get it wrong, and can you could find yourself heading to the Employment Relations Authority.

The key to getting it right is to set out your decision making process in a reasoned way. By being reasoned, you will come across as reasonable. This means acknowledging the employee’s feedback by referring to it in the letter, saying what you accept of that feedback and what you reject (and if you reject, why); all before communicating your decision.

By setting out the termination letter in this way, you answer the question, “why me?” (Resentment) and help move the employee to Acceptance without passing the Employment Relations Authority and collecting compensation.

Never ignore the five emotions of dismissal

A dismissal process is not just about following the steps to comply with the law. It is also about moving the employee through the five emotional states of shock, anger, resentment, acceptance and hope, or SARAH for short. To do that, be objective and communicate your decision in a reasoned way. That way you are more likely to avoid the proverbial soup in the lap.


Six years old sounds a peculiar time to start to legal career, but that's the first memory I have of going to my Dad's law firm located in the heart of legal London. So, with law running in the family, the natural choice at University was a law degree. I also had a keen interest in Sports Law and obtained a Post Graduate Certificate in the subject from Kings College London. I came to New Zealand for a year, but like a lot of people I quite liked the place, and I'm still here practising law ...

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