Five Crucial Tips for Terminating an Employee

With the notable exception of Donald Trump, most business owners agree that having to inform someone that they no longer have a job is usually intensely unpleasant.  Unfortunately, terminations are often unavoidable, especially in this economy.  Incorporating these five steps into your termination process can help ease the stress on all parties involved:

1. Make sure your policies are updated and in order.  First, before you go through with terminating an employee, make sure your employee handbook reserves the right to terminate. Confirm that it contains an at-will statement or discloses policies that could result in an employee’s termination. Updated and organized policies can help guide you towards a just cause for termination on a case-by-case basis, leaving little room for an employee to argue they were wrongfully let go.

2. Do not make the decision alone. Before moving forward with termination, confer with human resources or a higher level manager and get their approval to ensure that the termination is fair and consistent with company policies.  If you do not have an HR department or an upper level manager, consider consulting an attorney who is familiar with the requirements and risks associated with termination for guidance on how to avoid unnecessary risks.  Make certain you document any discussions you have with HR or your attorney.

3. Review all performance documentation.  It is critical to review and complete all  performance documentation before terminating the employee to ensure that you will be able to produce records documenting all circumstances leading up to the decision to terminate. Without this important documentation, an employee may file an EEOC claim arguing that the termination was retaliation or discrimination.

4. Choose Your Ground.   Never terminate someone in front of other employees.   Meet him or her  in your office or another private location, and have all appropriate paperwork ready, including benefits information and policies pertaining to the return of company property, along with final payroll checks.  Although it may be tempting to avoid personal confrontation by informing the employee over the phone, via e-mail, or even through a text, it’s not a good idea.  It will doubtless lead to resentment and anger, which may in turn lead to a employment claim.

5. Be Detached.  Keep emotion out of the process as much as possible. Terminations are stressful for both parties, and it can be difficult for even the most seasoned professional to retain their composure if the employee reacts with strong emotions.  Allow the employee time to express their feelings of disappointment, but no matter how angry or upset the employee gets, don’t react with anything other than sympathy and compassion.    Do not allow the discussion to turn into an argument over the reasons for the termination.

Some final tips to help ensure that the employee will continue to view your organization in a positive light.

1.  The shorter the meeting is, the better.

2.  Only call security to escort a terminated employee as an absolute last resort.

3.  Show compassion, and help the employee maintain their dignity.


Author: Seth Heyman
Seth D. Heyman is a California attorney with extensive experience in advertising and marketing law, corporate law, contracts, governmental regulations, international business, and Internet law. He has counseled numerous successful companies, both public and private, and was responsible for regulatory compliance, contract management, corporate governance, and HR best practices for multiple organizations in many diverse industries, including marketing, telecommunications, energy, and technology development. He offers insight and guidance on federal and state direct mail, TV, radio, telemarketing, and Internet marketing laws, as well as online promotions, Internet privacy, data protection regulations, and similar matters.

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