While some may argue that there is no nice way to say an early goodbye to a contract employee, we would argue that some goodbyes are certainly better than others. In fact, there is a way of doing things that can lead to a better work experience (though no longer shared) for both parties, if handled with care.
So, if you're feeling the need to free your freelancer, here are some tips to help you keep that goodbye as clean and friendly as possible:
Have a Personal Touch.
Break the news in conversation, not by email. This means either face-to-face via Skyping or picking up your phone. Your freelancer deserves the courtesy of a live person giving them the bad news, if at all possible. And set up a specific time to talk ("I need to speak with you, when can you be available?"), so that the freelancer is not caught off guard in the middle of his childcare carpool.
When giving the reason for your unexpected parting, don't get bogged down in details. You are not obligated to teach the freelancer any career-altering lessons (the firing will be enough). State the facts as simply and politely as you can. For example if the work was always late, explain that your deadlines were suffering and it's time to move on. Focus on your needs, not their shortcomings -- there is a subtle difference.
Offer Notice When Appropriate.
If you feel comfortable allowing the freelancer to finish whatever projects he is on or allowing him to continue another week of work, you will be doing the person a huge favor by not instantly cutting off his paycheck. However, there will be times when this sort of kindness is a bad idea -- hopefully you'll know these cases when you see them.
Offer Severance Pay When Appropriate.
In cases where you can't allow the freelancer to continue a minute longer, sending her off with a day's wages (or a week's) is a nice gesture, but severance pay is a rare courtesy for freelancers, not a legal requirement. (Unless of course you have a contract that stipulates otherwise.) Consider how long the freelancer has worked for you and how much of their workload you've been supplying. If you've been her only client for over a year, you should consider the kindness of severance pay, provided you can afford it. (And by all means, get it to her as quickly as possible.)
If there is anything you can thank your soon-to-be former employee for, by all means, say thank you now. Say it again later in writing.
Sometimes when it comes to saying goodbye, less is more. Write down a very concise speech including all of the above elements and practice what you will say with a coworker or friend. Letting someone go is rarely easy, but hopefully doing this hard thing will lead to a better future for your company and eventually for the freelancer as well.
Ever had a good experience letting your freelancer go? Share your tips for a friendly firing in the comments below.