February 13, 2020
The Do's and Don'ts of Terminating Employees
Terminating an employee is stressful for everyone involved and many managers and human resource professionals consider this responsibility the worst part of their job—whether as a layoff, a bad hire or for cause. With a little planning and preparation, you can make the experience less traumatic for everyone, maintain compliance with state and federal law, ensure your employee feels respected and avoid any bad publicity.
Organizations are under strict protocol when it comes to terminating employees and should therefore have written procedures in place to avoid negative repercussions such as fines and or lawsuits. Get ahead of issues as soon as possible by having open conversations on how to improve performance, attitude, or other matters so as not to blindside employees when the decision is made to let them go. Never take allegations as fact—conduct thorough investigations, secure findings and always document performance and behavioral issues as well as any disciplinary actions taken.
Following are some do’s and don’ts to consider when preparing to terminate an employee.
Tips on how to approach, conduct and communicate a termination:
- Make sure the termination decision is consistent with the company’s practices and policies
- Consider protected classes to ensure you have proper documentation before proceeding—these include race, age, gender, religion, physical or mental disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, pregnancy and citizenship
- Schedule the meeting at an appropriate time for the employee —avoiding birthdays, holidays or the anniversary of their hire date
- Hold the meeting in a private location where you won’t be interrupted and others can’t observe
- Plan an early morning meeting on any day other than a Friday to provide the employee the opportunity to move forward rather than facing an entire weekend at a stand still
- Have a witness present to take notes
- Start off by telling the employee the purpose of the meeting so they know the decision is final
- Provide appropriate and detailed information about the termination—even in states that allow “at will” employment, companies should still articulate a reason for termination
- Have specifics ready on the employee’s final pay and benefit information
- Treat your employee with dignity and respect by being honest but also sensitive
- Create a “Separation Package” with relevant materials to be taken home, as often times the stress and emotion involved in being let go interferes with the ability to process all the information provided
- End on a positive note by offering words of encouragement
Mistakes to avoid when terminating an employee:
- Making excuses, apologizing for the situation or changing your story
- Avoiding the issues causing the termination
- Classifying a disciplinary termination as a layoff
- Communicating the decision inaccurately
- Not retrieving company property such as door keys, badges, phones, or laptops
- Allowing disgruntled employees access to their work area or information systems
- Assuming the dismissal will remain private and not notifying other employees
- Dragging out the conversation longer than necessary
- Arguing with an employee to justify the termination decision
- Allowing the employee to think that there is an opportunity to change your decision
Termination meetings are uncomfortable and come with risks but you can make the experience more palatable by preparing an effective and supportive approach to a hard conversation. The last 15 minutes you spend terminating an employee will likely be the most important of the employment relationship, so ensure you’ve covered your bases to avoid negative outcomes that could harm your organizations reputation.