Terminating an employee is never fun, but it comes with being an employer. By handling terminations effectively, employers minimize damage to team morale and help protect the company from potential litigation.
A strong foundation for an effective termination process includes respect, civility, and confidentiality. Getting let go impacts a person’s career path, livelihood, and self-worth. Talk about a tense conversation!
Terminations can also be traumatic for the rest of the employees watching the process unfold. Depending on the professionalism and dignity the situation is given, it will affect the rest of your staff for better or worse.
Before you terminate an employee
To protect themselves, there are three things employers should do before actually letting an employee go.
1. Document all incidents
Document all incidents of tardiness or underperformance, not just when it becomes a problem. This puts the employee’s behavior on record and allows you to track their progress (or nonprogress) over time. Here are a few practical ways you can do this.
- Disciplinary notice form: When an employee receives a verbal warning, written warning, or suspension, document the details including the date and agreed-upon solution. Have your employee sign off to acknowledge receipt and understanding. Retain a copy in the employee’s personnel file.
- Email: If you’ve had an in-person conversation with your employee, send them an email recapping your discussion. Request that the employee acknowledges the email by responding to confirm they received it.
- Personal notes: For smaller matters, keep an ongoing log that’s organized and easily accessible for future reference.
It is important to note that employers must take caution to protect the confidentiality of any disciplinary action. Lack of confidentiality can exacerbate an already sensitive situation.
2. Be consistent
When deciding when and how to terminate an employee, reflect on past practices. “I often get the question, ‘Should I give this employee one more write-up before I terminate?’” says HR Specialist, Alleane Alley. “The truth is, it’s completely up to you. There is no black and white guideline you must follow. However, once you set a precedent, you should keep it in mind for future employees in similar situations.”
3. Seek legal consultation
If your employee has recently filed for workers’ compensation, requested time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, or complained about harassment in the workplace, be sure to contact your legal counsel or an HR professional to evaluate the risks of possible outcomes. Timing, approach, and documentation are all important considerations when evaluating potential risk of an employment claim.
Ideally, an employee will not be surprised that they are being let go. Their underperformance, attendance issues, or lack of alignment with corporate values should have been communicated to them with opportunities for improvement. There are some exceptions, however, when employees may need to be released immediately or after an investigation, including a breach of confidentiality or workplace violence.
Here are a few things to note when firing an employee:
- Have an HR professional in the room if you aren’t trained in conducting terminations. In case the employee comes back to you with a lawsuit, your HR representative can confirm you acted legally and ethically. However, dependent on the manager’s relationship with the employee, and other extenuating circumstances, you may opt not to have an HR professional in the room as long as you remain neutral in the eyes of the employee.
- Be clear and direct. Every employee will ask why they are being let go. Be clear as to why you are terminating their employment with the company but don’t supply a list of specific examples to reiterate your dissatisfaction. You might say, “We’ve discussed your performance issues and our expected standards. We are separating your employment because your performance still isn’t meeting those expectations.”
- Listen to their questions. Allow time for any questions they have on separation, next steps, COBRA, unemployment, etc. Due to the emotional nature of terminations, employees who are being let go will frequently miss information they need. Give them a way to contact you or a representative for any questions they have after they’ve left.
- Have their final paycheck. Be prepared to hand them their final paycheck for all hours worked, or have it available by the next day.
- Escort them out with dignity. Minimize their contact with other employees while still at the worksite. If you escort your employee back to their desk to remove their items, clear the area first to give them privacy. If you allow your employee to walk away with dignity, this could help deter them from filing a claim against your company.
Communicate the departure to essential staff
- IT—Computer and email access should be shut down immediately so the former employee is unable to access company information.
- Benefits—Medical insurance, 401(k) payments, and other benefits package related items will need to cease according to established timelines.
- HR—If the former employee has any keys, they need to be returned. The HR department also needs to know if they should begin searching for a replacement.
- Accounting—Any company credit cards that were issued should be collected. The accounting department should also process the former employee’s final paycheck.
Communicate the departure to your team
Do not tell other employees the employee was terminated or provide any details surrounding their departure. Only communicate information they need to know, opting for something concise but honest, like “Ben is no longer with our company. We wish him well with his future endeavors. If you have any questions or pending projects, please speak to manager Jane Smith.”
Prepare for unemployment insurance claims
Anyone can file an unemployment insurance claim up to 18 months following their separation, but whether or not they are deemed eligible by the State of Hawaii’s Unemployment Insurance office will depend upon the circumstances of the separation. If they file a claim, you will have to prove to the State of Hawaii Unemployment Insurance Division that the employee was involved in misconduct connected to work. (Source)
Terminations are one of the most difficult things employers and employees go through, but if handled properly, both parties will hopefully be able to move forward in a positive way.
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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.