Posted on April 16, 2014

Letting Someone Go? 7 Best Practices for Termination

Most managers would agree: the least favorite part of their jobs is terminating employees. This anxiety, combined with an inherently uncomfortable situation, can lead to mistakes and potential legal troubles. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) awarded $42 million in monetary penalties in 2012 to employees who were subjects of discrimination. In addition, more than half of wrongful termination lawsuits are won by the former employee.

Reduce your risk of lawsuits and lessen the traumatic impact of a termination by following these seven best practices:

1. Base your decision on facts, not emotions

Make sure your decision to terminate an employee is based on provable facts and is only for business reasons. Otherwise, you may run into trouble if the termination reason is questioned later on.

2. Make sure everything is well-documented

Documentation is your best defense in the event of a lawsuit. Even employment attorneys are often surprised at the lack of documentation companies maintain about the employee’s performance and their reasons for termination. Don’t let the conversation devolve into “he said, she said” by backing up your assertions with hard proof.

3. Have the meeting in person

Resist the urge to take the easy way out and terminate an employee via email or phone. Have the meeting in person. Include only yourself, the employee and possibly one other manager or HR representative. Having another person in a managerial role in the room gives you another witness in case your actions are called into question, allows that person to take notes if needed and discourages any abusive reaction on the part of the employee.

4. Be honest about your reasoning

Tell the truth about why you decided to fire the employee. Provide honest feedback on his performance or the reasons for letting him go. If applicable, let him know that you attempted to find another position at the company for which he would be a good fit.

5. Have a plan

The employee will probably remember this meeting for the rest of his life, so make sure you’re prepared. Plan your termination meeting in advance, drawing on how-to guides, templates and checklists from HR experts. With the right plan and execution, you can do a lot to make the experience less uncomfortable for everyone.

6. Be consistent

Be consistent with your company’s policies, contracts and past practices. If a lawsuit is filed, you’ll be much better off if you followed a consistent process. Review pertinent policies and contracts before you make a termination, so you can ensure you’re following your own rules.

7. Treat the employee with respect

Whatever your reason for letting the employee go, he deserves to be treated with dignity. Here are a few ways to show respect for the departing employee:

* Don’t fire him on a Friday afternoon—he will spend the weekend feeling helpless and cut off from all resources.
* Resist the temptation to lighten the mood by making jokes during the termination meeting—for the employee, this is no laughing matter.
* If applicable, explain any re-employment assistance your company offers.
* Express confidence in his future success.
* After the meeting, give him time to compose himself.

Terminations are a fact of life for managers, but by following these best practices you can shield your organization from legal repercussions and mitigate an unpleasant situation for departing employees.

*You can find complete how-to guide, termination checklists and sample exit interview forms in the HR Support Center, a comprehensive knowledgebase of HR guides, templates and more.


Sources: EEOC Enforcement and Litigation Data, Lawyers and Settlements, TLNT.com, HR Support Center

This content is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.