Firing an employee is one of the most unpleasant tasks you face, not to mention legally risky, and should be navigated with much caution, preparation, and deliberation. Here are 15 tips for effective, compliant, and professional terminations.
1. Terminate in-person
Always conduct the termination meeting in person and have the decision-maker and another management official present in the meeting as a witness. The decision-maker regarding the termination is usually a manager or executive in the organization.
2. Choose a time and day early in the day/week
If possible, terminating employees as early in the day and week as possible is best. Hold the meeting in a private and neutral location.
3. Keep it short
The meeting should last no longer than 10–15 minutes. It should simply provide a short, clear statement about the final decision, inform the employee of the effective date of their termination, and how logistical details will be handled (final paycheck, benefits, removal of personal property, etc.).
4. Give reasons for the termination with caution
Most states do not require employers to disclose reasons for the termination, but an employer may choose to provide them.
Explaining reasons for the termination should be handled cautiously:
- List two or three reasons for the termination
- Do not reference personal reasons or character
- Do not state suspected misconduct that has not been proven
- Describe factual and objective behavior
5. Have documented, legitimate reasons to terminate
The decision to terminate an employee carries a risk of legal action, so be sure that you have sufficient grounds to terminate, including clearly documented conduct or performance issues.
This information can include:
- Performance reviews
- Formal warnings
- Documented counseling or coaching
- Company policies and procedures
6. Never terminate on-the-spot
It's never wise to terminate an employee on-the-spot without any investigation, conversation, or discipline—no matter how grave the offense is. Rather, if the issue or misconduct is very serious, consider suspending the employee pending an investigation and carefully review all of the evidence.
7. Consult with an employment attorney
If an employee is in a protected class, has a known medical condition or disability, has taken job protected medical leave, or if there is suspicion of any other legal issue (e.g. harassment, retaliation), be sure to consult with an employment attorney before terminating.
8. Anticipate reactions
These should be based on your knowledge of the employee and how they may react to the termination notice. Though the employee should not be surprised with a termination if you've done your due-diligence, taken steps prior to warn them, and used a progressive discipline process, a firing can be a traumatic experience.
9. Avoid emotional reactions
If you are conducting the termination meeting, avoid displays of emotional reactions. Keep away from getting angry or upset, raising your voice, using forceful words/behaviors, or blaming the individual being terminated.
10. Treat employees with dignity and respect
When employees are treated with empathy and respect during their terminations, they are less likely to file a lawsuit, claim wrongful termination, or backlash against the company.
This can involve:
- Giving the individual a few moments to pause and gather their thoughts
- Escorting them out of the office in a dignified manner
- Having another member of your staff clean out their desk or office
- Offering information regarding post-termination, and even outplacement help
11. Do not use the termination meeting to conduct an exit interview
The termination meeting is not the time or place to conduct an exit interview so avoid these types of questions during the meeting. In general, exit interviews are more relevant and useful for voluntary terminations.
12. Have the employee immediately return company property
All company property in the employee's possession such as keys, credit card, cell phone, or company, should be given back to the organization immediately following termination.
13. Use prompted resignation only in some circumstances
Offering an employee the opportunity to resign versus being terminated can be considered when an employee is being terminated because of their failure to meet certain performance standards and when no misconduct or violation of a company policy has occurred. But be aware that, traditionally, employers are responsible for unemployment claims for prompted resignations.
In cases of prompted resignation, employers should consider the following for protection:
- Using a termination agreement/release
- Providing a severance package in exchange for the resignation
- Making performance issues known ahead of time to the employee
14. Conclude on a friendly note
End the meeting in a friendly and positive manner by wishing the employee well in the future and possibly providing them with an outplacement resource. Firms like CareerCurve offer customized solutions that deliver high quality services at an affordable price.
15. Meet with your other employees as soon as possible
Communicate to your remaining employees that the individual is no longer employed at the organization. Do not make any negative comments about the terminated employee and keep your communication objective. Be available to employees for questions and concerns.
Sometimes terminations are a necessary evil in the workplace. Using these tips will help your organization manage terminations in a professional manner and also reduce the likelihood of a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application.
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