Supporting your client’s employee termination process

February 10, 2015

Employment Law BookEmployee terminations are rarely pleasant events and business counselor can assist their client through the termination process by providing them with tips and tools on how to handle the “exit interview”: the meeting with an employee during which the employee will be notified that his or her employment relationship with the company is being involuntarily terminated.  It is important to plan when and where the meeting will occur and how the information will be presented in the meeting. In addition, the “exit process” logistics should be set up in advance and all necessary information should be collected regarding the documents that will be presented to the terminated employee.

While details of the reasons for the termination need not be presented at length during the meeting it is obviously essential to conduct a thorough pre-termination review before making and communicating the decision to discharge the employee. When preparing for the interview all of the relevant employee-related agreements and policies should be review including any specific employment agreement that outlines causes for termination and the consequences thereof, work rules, discipline policies, discharge policies, non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, non-disclosure agreements, reference policies and policies relating to access to personnel files.

Human resources professionals should be provided with an outline or script to get through the meeting and the document should anticipate the reactions of the particular employee and the human resources professional should be prepared to respond appropriately. If necessary, the professional should practice the script several times before the meeting so that the information flows more smoothly. Terminations should not be done one-on-one and the professional should always ask a colleague to join the meeting as a witness. Once the decision to terminate the employee has been communicated the human resources professional should emphasize that the decision is final and that the meeting is not a negotiation or debate. If the termination is “for cause,” the employee should be informed during the meeting whether or not the company intends to oppose any application for unemployment insurance that the employee may attempt to file. This information can save all parties a lot of time and effort; however, an employee cannot be prevented from filing for benefits even he or she has been told that the application will be opposed.

The departing employee should be provided with a summary of post-termination benefits information and advised that the company will handle notification of managers, other employees and customers regarding the departure. The departing employee should also be told that his or her computer access has been disabled and that he will be expected to promptly return all company property. Before the meeting ends the departing employee should be given a few moments to express any final thoughts provided that they are communicated professionally.

The company should implement appropriate security measures, provide for the collection of personal belongings, and ensure that the employee departs the premises quickly and quietly. In addition, of course, the final paycheck should be delivered to the departing employee along with a brief letter or written memorandum that summarizes the important issues that were discussed during the meeting. The departing employee should be asked to countersign a copy of the summary acknowledging receipt and should then be accompanied to his or her workstation to retrieve personal belongings and admonished not to disturb co-workers during this process. Once the meeting is completed and the departed employee has left the premises the details of the termination meeting should be outlined in writing and the notes should be placed into the employee’s personnel file.

Completion of the above-listed steps can be facilitated by the use of checklists relating to matters to consider prior to employee terminations (§172:245); legal and regulatory considerations prior to employee terminations (§172:246); and matters to consider in conducting an employee termination (§172:247).  Complete information on compliance with employment laws is available in the chapter on Employment Law Compliance (§§ 172:1 et seq.).