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Employee Relations

How to Handle a Termination Meeting Like a Pro

At some point you may have to tell an employee that their employment has been terminated.  Naturally, many managers are uncomfortable with the process.  I have put together an effective offboarding checklist that will save you a lot of time and stress.

General Tips

The best person to tell the employee of the termination is their supervisor along with an HR representative.  Do not do it alone – have a witness to the conversation, both for legal reasons and for support.

Meetings should be face to face (or screen to screen), not via email.

The meeting should be in a private place away from other employees.

Keep the meeting brief, do not “get into the weeds.”

Tell them right away that their employment is coming to an end (no suspense!).

Let the individual keep their dignity and self-respect.  Be non-confrontational.  You do not want them to become angry or resentful.

Prepare in advance – does the employee have an employment contract?  If they violated a rule, is it written in your Employee Handbook for reference?  If it is performance related, are you following up on a performance evaluation?  Protect yourself in case of future legal action.

Conversation Template

Hi _______________.  We’ve reviewed your performance and company goals, and unfortunately we have decided to terminate your employment for ___ (reason for termination)_______.  

This will be effective _____(today/end date)____.

Before we go further, I want to wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, our employment relationship is ending but we feel that no one needs to burn bridges.

It is the company procedure to go over the following:

___ Legal issues (non-compete, non-solicitation, confidentiality, non-disparagement, etc). 

___ Return of property or proprietary information

___ Email/system access termination

___  Final pay (pay, PTO, severance, etc.) and date of pay

___  Benefits continuation will be communicated to you

___ Other benefits (retirement/401k, etc.) will be communicated to you

___ Handover/briefing on projects, client contact and other work in progress (you may have to schedule another meeting for this)

Conclusion of Meeting

We know this is a lot to digest at once.  If you need to follow up any of this, please contact ____ (Human Resources/key contact)_______.  Take care and I wish you all the best.

After the Meeting

___  Contact your IT people to terminate email/system access and forward emails, etc.

___  Terminate the employee in the payroll system

___ Initiate COBRA/benefits communication letter 

___ Initiate retirement/401k communication letter

___ Communicate with employee’s key customers/relationships as needed

___  Communicate with co-workers.  Again, keep it brief but reassure everyone that all is well.

FAQ

What if they vent?  

Allow them to express themselves within reason, they are human.  But stay calm and keep to your script.

What if they demand more detail or try to change your mind?  

Understand that by the time this meeting is held, it is no longer a “debate” but a communication of a decision.  You do not have to defend or justify your reasons.  Circle back to the fact that the decision has been made.

What if they tell you something that you were not aware of?

Thank them for the information and tell them that you will look into it.  Take it seriously, as a claim of harassment or discrimination might lead to a lawsuit down the road.

What if they ask about unemployment?

Many states require that you tell employees that they have the right to file.  Typically, they will be able to collect unless they engaged in “gross misconduct,” or voluntarily resigned.  You can contest the unemployment depending on the details of the termination.  

What about giving a reference?

You need to have a policy about this.  Some employers are happy to do so, others will only verify dates and positions held.  If the employee is being terminated, chances are you will be more willing to give the latter than the former.  Be upfront about what you will do.

What is the best day and time to have the meeting?

Conventional wisdom is Friday afternoon.  But others argue that it is better to do this Monday morning, when the employee is fresh and will have the whole week to move on.  My advice is to have the meeting as soon as possible after reaching your decision to terminate.

What if the employee wants to personally go around the office saying goodbye, or have a Zoom meeting with their co-workers?

Assess the situation.  When in doubt, let them know it would be better for them to take a few minutes and leave the office.  (If remote, do not authorize a Zoom meeting!).

Have you personally had any unusual termination meetings?

As an HR professional, I have handled more than a few terminations.  I have had an angry employee flip over a chair on the way out of my office;  one employee walked to their workstation and cut the computer cords with a penknife (!); another made a speech in front of the whole accounting department.  But the vast majority of termination meetings went smoothly, largely because they were not a surprise to the employee.  This is an important point – if they are shocked at being terminated, there has been a failure of communication on management’s part.  Telling your employees what they are doing right and wrong all along, and not letting poor performance fester, will reduce the stress of the “meeting.”

Conclusion

Termination meetings are often emotional and can be unpleasant for both sides.  These tips and checklist will help you to be focused and professional, which will lead to better outcomes.  

Interested in support for your difficult employee conversations? Schedule a call and let’s discuss your goals.

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