I am sad and feel for you - if you are the one who is thinking about firing an employee.
After hiring thousands (and firing hundreds), "your fired" did not get easier.
If you are talking about the moment of action, that moment where you are telling them "Effective now, you are no longer employed here." - Make it fast, short.
Unfortunately, the answer is not a one-size-fits-all because every state has their own labor laws. As an employer or manager, it is your responsibility to understand the laws and potential consequences.
Also, consider many who want to be fired because they believe they can trap an employer into a situation where the employee will get unemployment. (Everyone has a different understanding of employment laws)
As to the long path prior to the termination, there are books written on the topic. HR experts spend their days consider every detail.
Here is what I concluded after firing hundreds.
- Anyone can fire employees. It is not difficult or challenging (once the laws and processes are understood and followed)\
- What most are unable to do (or willing to do) is take a marginal employee and turn them into a valuable person on the team.
- and so I changed the mindset of my team to focus on success instead of firing people. "What is missing? What is at the core of the employee issues?" We created a plan to help people be successful - even those in the high risk zone.
- And we changed the game and turned them into stars. (Not all, but many)
Note - for those who are doing something illegal or obvious reasons to be terminated (like a temper tantrum at a customer), they are fired - and it takes 60 seconds. To be sure there is not a "he said - she said" scenario, it was important to get quick notes from observers.
It took many years to understand the complicated world of hiring, managing and terminating employees and keep the risks low and employee morale up.
Since I had so many years experience, I only went to an attorney or HR expert for the very serious and complicated issues. As someone starting out... it is as important to have an HR person available for questions as it is an accountant or attorney.
These thoughts I share will not replace talking to an HR person. Each case is slightly different, each state with its own laws.
Case by case - get input from an expert to know the risks and consequences.