Five best practices for terminating employees

Five best practices for t…

As a leader in your company, the time will come when you must let go of employees. Being prepared and organized throughout the process is essential, no matter the situation. Termination requires incredible clarity and objectivity for the person(s) delivering the news. A fair and professional approach is necessary to minimize the chances of an ex-employee initiating legal action against the company.

Once the decision has been made to terminate an employee, here are five best practices to remember as you navigate the process.

1. Come prepared.

Although we all hope for the most civil outcome, one must anticipate that the employee may have questions and strong feelings about the termination.

First, record a well-established reason(s) for terminating the employee to cover all your bases. Include any documented evidence of unfit work behavior to support the decision. This could consist of performance evaluations, written warnings, attendance records or registered violations of employer policies. I recommend building an outline for the conversation or a list of talking points to ensure all necessary information is communicated. When speaking to the employee, details can be lost, especially if the reaction is extreme.

It is also crucial to plan how the employee’s keys, security passes, company phones, laptops, etc., will be returned and schedule the disabling of their electronic access. Bring any information regarding the continuation of health coverage (COBRA), a copy of the employee’s termination letter, a severance and a release agreement to the meeting. In Tennessee, there is a state form that the employer is obligated to give an employee within 24 hours of notice of the termination. This is called a Notice of Separation, which outlines the employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits. (Other states may have different requirements.)

Finally, select a time and place for the meeting that will minimize interruptions and grant the employee privacy and adequate time and space to leave the office. Make sure you also block out enough time that the employee can review the severance and release agreement immediately and seek legal counsel if they wish. If severance is being offered, make clear the amount and estimated payout date; do note that severance is still available to the employee if a decision is not made during meeting time.

2. Have a third party present.

Given the delicate nature of terminations, I suggest having a human resources representative or another member of management attend the meeting, take notes and answer any comments or questions the employee may have so your sole focus can be communicating the termination effectively. Having a witness document the interaction is essential in the event that the employee decides to file a wrongful termination suit.

If an extreme response from the employee is expected, ask security to be on standby during the meeting or seek counsel from your legal department on handling this scenario.

3. Note any resources still available to the employee.

Know that the employee may panic about losing company-related benefits they previously subscribed to (e.g., insurance, retirement plans). It’s important to explain any benefits to which the employee is still entitled or provide instructions for how to obtain this information.

Also, explain the type of reference, if any, that will be provided by the employer to future workplaces; if a reference or employment history letter has been prepared in advance, provide a copy to the employee to avoid future confusion or disagreement.

4. Communicate any ongoing obligations of the employee.

Know that the employee may assume that their relations with the company are dissolved following their final day at work. Before the termination meeting, outline any level of accountability the employee has to the company moving forward.

If the employee is subject to a contract, or a signed confidentiality, noncompete or similar agreement(s), ensure that you reiterate the expectations of the agreement(s) as well as the consequences of any violation. Be sure to give the departing employee a copy of any agreements that include restrictive covenants — like noncompete agreements — as a reminder of their ongoing obligations to the company.

5. Weigh empathy and objectivity.

Terminations can be difficult and emotional. It’s hard to balance sensitivity to the situation with honest and transparent disclosure of the employee’s termination, but as a leader, it is your job to do so.

It is always advised during terminations to avoid personal statements in your delivery of the news. Try your best not to use phrases such as, “This wasn’t my decision” or “I wish we didn’t have to do this.” Remember, any doubt or guilt expressed around the decision can be used against you should the employee go as far as to pursue legal action against the company.

Though your responses should center on facts, I encourage you to be open to the employee’s concerns and questions.

Final thoughts

Terminating employees is difficult, but protecting yourself and your career during the process can be just as challenging. As you go through these best practices, remember that these tough decisions are ultimately made in the company’s best interest.

Read this article on The Business Journals here.