Tactfully Terminating an Employee

An employee termination is a rough situation for both the employee and the employer. While the employee will likely (and understandably) be upset at being asked to leave the company and having to find new employment, telling an employee (especially one who has been with the company for a long time) that they have been terminated is not a pleasant experience, and there are a number of potential legal consequences. Employee lawsuits have increased by 400% in the past 20 years, with wrongful termination suits alone rising by over 260%. Protect your business with Employment Practices Liability Insurance and familiarize yourself with the common causes of employee suits so your termination meetings will be liability-free and as painless as possible.

Planning Ahead

A termination should not come as a surprise, nor should you improvise your way through letting an employee go. Before the meeting, the Harvard Business Review recommends creating a transition plan that will draft out when exactly the employee will be told of your decision and what the replacement process will be like. Make sure that the employee is being terminated for a legitimate reason, and that no one could possibly twist it to be against employment laws, particularly those regarding protected characteristics.

The Termination

You owe it to your employees to terminate them in person. If they have been working with you, no matter how long, they deserve an in-person meeting. This meeting should take place in a private room, though we recommend having a witness with you (it can be another employee, preferably someone from Human Resources). Having a witness will allow them to assist with the meeting should you be unsure of how to address something, and they will be able to vouch for you in the event of a lawsuit.

The termination itself should be professional, and above all else short and simple. No matter how close you are to the employee and how much you regret having to do this, try to avoid overloading it with sympathetic statements (it is fine to thank them for their work). Lead into it by letting them know you have some bad news, and give them a short justification - no more than a sentence or two - of why they are being terminated, and then open the floor for them to talk. Be prepared for them to be emotional, but don’t let that impact how you act in the meeting.

After you’ve said what you want to say, be prepared to answer your employee’s questions about when they will be leaving the company, severance pay, bonus paychecks, references, benefits, company property, and anything else they may be wondering about. As Monster says, this is the rare occasion where you can’t say “I’ll get back to you on that” or defer the discussion to a later time, so make sure you’re prepared for their questions.

Pitfalls to Avoid

While it is respectful to have a conversation with the terminated employee about their termination and listen to what they have to say, take care to avoid these topics in your conversation and as the employee is leaving:

  • Be aware of protected characteristics. April Boyer, partner in K&L Gates, told ZipRecruiter, “Be certain that the employee’s age, marital status, race, gender, pregnancy status, request for FMLA leave, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin or other protected activities are not considered in the decision to discharge the employee.”
  • Make sure the employee does not leave the workplace with company property. If this does occur, quickly contact the employee to discuss returning the property.
  • Do not allow the employee to access other employees or information systems. Avoiding their coworkers will help prevent the employee from feeling humiliated, and preventing the employee from accessing electronic systems (such as e-mail) will prevent them from potentially acting out out of anger. The Balance cites examples of employees who have sabotaged computer systems or sent controversial goodbye notes during their termination.

About Axis Insurance Services

At Axis Insurance Services, we aim to help our customers identify their exposures and protect themselves. Founded in 1999, we offer insurance programs to a wide variety of professionals and industries including attorneys, real estate, healthcare, architects, and more, and also have a wholesale division. We pride ourselves on offering flexible insurance coverage tailored specifically to each customer’s needs. To learn more about our solutions, contact us at (201) 847-9175 to speak with one of our professionals.

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