How to Properly Conduct Employee Terminations

Apr 30, 2018
| Matthew Ponticelli and David Pearson
Conducting Employee Terminations

One of the most stressful events for most managers is having to terminate an employee. It is often cited as the thing managers hate most to do.

However, there eventually will come a time where a manager or organization will need to terminate an employee. It can be for any number of reasons, from poor work performance to inappropriate behavior.

How organizations and HR departments conduct employee terminations can have significant impacts for both the former employee and the business.

This why there are a few practices that all companies should follow in order to conduct terminations in a professional manner while ensuring compliance and minimizing potential risks, such as an employee lawsuit.

1) Follow All Company Policies and Procedures about Terminations

If an organization has a documented termination policy, they must be sure to follow the processes and procedures that are listed. Failing to do so could allow employees to file a wrongful termination lawsuit, which can have a significant impact on a company, especially smaller employers.

Business leadership and HR teams must carefully review their termination policies prior to terminating an employee to ensure the process meets what is documented.

Employers should also routinely look at all their process to see if any updates need to be made. Including certain policies and procedures in an employee handbook is a best practice.

2) Have a Consistent Process

This is tied very closely to the previous example. In addition to having a documented termination policy, employers must show consistency with how they approach and conduct employee terminations.

Businesses who don’t follow a consistent process open themselves up to discrimination lawsuits from terminated employees.

Ensuring a termination procedure is in place, and followed each time an employee is let go, is critical for all employers.

3) Treat Terminated Employees with Dignity and Respect

When an employee is told that their employment is being terminated, it’s an emotional and stressful event. Managers and HR members need to treat terminated employees with dignity and respect, and not make the situation any more difficult.

Doing so could make the situation a little less emotional for the individual, and is overall a best practice for all employers to follow. You want to treat the employee with the same standards as you had when you onboarded them.

4) Keep Accurate Documentation

Ensuring that everything is documented should be a standard practice for all employers, and not just for HR-related procedures.

Usually, an employee who is performing below standards or isn’t meeting expectations will have had meetings to review performance and explain areas where they can improve. These types of events must be documented in case an employee fails to improve, as it serves as justifiable grounds for termination.

Failing to document events or actions means that should a lawsuit come from a terminated employee, the employer doesn’t have any documented proof that the termination was warranted. Always remember that if something isn’t documented by a manager or employer, the event didn’t happen in the eyes of the law.

It is important to ensure the documentation supports and substantiates the decision to terminate the employee.

5) Have an HR Team Member Involved in the Termination Meeting

One best practice that employers should try to follow is to have more than one person take part in a termination meeting. For most businesses, this is usually the employee’s manager and the company’s HR director or manager.

Having an HR member on hand for a termination meeting helps to ensure that the meeting progresses and concludes in a compliant manner, as they have considerable experience and training around these matters.

Including an HR manager for a termination meeting can significantly limit an employer’s liability, as well as assist the hiring manager should they not know what to do next or need any assistance during the meeting.

6) Keep Termination Decisions About Performance or Behavior

With the rise of the Digital Age and social media, this can be a tough area for most employers. However, firing an employee for something they said on social networks or the internet can be a challenging process, as it can easily lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit or other litigation. You want to ensure you are acting legally and not infringing on inalienable rights.

Most companies now have social media policies, and include social networks in their termination policies. However, managers and employers need to be careful when firing an employee for anything that’s not directly tied to his or her job.

7) Ensure Terminated Employees Hand in All Company Property

Often, employees are given company property after joining that helps them perform their duties. These can be laptops, iPads, cell phones, and many other forms of technology.

When an employee is terminated, managers and HR team members must make sure that all company property is returned, and in good condition.

Given that confidential company information can be stored on these devices and properties, ensuring that they are returned helps to avoid any data-breaches and other compliance issues from occurring.

8) Also Restrict Access to Company Information Systems

In addition to getting back company property, employers should be sure to restrict the terminated employee’s access to company electronic systems such as email, intranet, social media accounts (if they manage them), and any other tools the employee had log-in credentials to.

This procedure is critical to ensure that a terminated employee cannot access sensitive information after they leave the company. Working with the IT department (if available) can help make this easier.

9) Communicate the Decision to the Employee Accurately

When explaining to an employee why they are being terminated, employers and managers should always try to be honest and tell the truth. Softening the message or over-exaggerating the reasons for the decision doesn’t help anyone and can be used against an employer in court.

Additionally, be concise, do not argue, don’t apologize, and don’t soften the message. This will help to avoid conflict between the company’s reason for termination and what the employee was told. You must ensure you do not engage in banter that may become detrimental, should litigation be pursued.

Avoid Termination Lawsuits by Putting Policies in Place That Create Consistent Procedures

Employee terminations are a complicated process for both the employee, their manager, and the organization. For employers, failing to have documented policies and procedures in place can lead to lawsuits and litigation from former employees.

Avoiding these costly penalties should be a critical objective for all employers and HR teams. At the same time, businesses must make sure that a departing employee is treated with dignity and respect.

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