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The Do’s and Don’t’s of Termination Meetings

Apr 18, 2016 | Blog

Okay, let’s face it: Nobody enjoys letting employees go.

Termination meetings can be uncomfortable, awkward, and can get potentially out of control.

We get it. It’s the professional equivalent of breaking up with your significant other.

(And you can’t just text with a bunch of sad-face emojis and let that be that.)

The good news is: termination meetings don’t have to be all pain and no gain.

Believe it or not, they can actually be efficient, professional, and relatively painless.

Yep. All it takes is the use of the following do’s and don’t’s – which are important to help reduce the risk of wrongful termination claims for you or your organization.

That’s right. Keep reading to find out how.

The Do’s and Don’t’s of Termination Meetings:

Before The Termination Meeting:

  • DO document performance issues.

Nobody likes surprises – especially getting fired and not knowing something was wrong.

So depending on the severity of a situation, it’s usually a good idea to document poor performance. Yes, that means writing down what’s gone wrong and what you expect the employee to do in order to fix the problem, and give them a copy of the documentation.

In some cases, if the employee has a good attitude and hasn’t been able to do the work to standard due to lack of knowledge or expertise, you should consider creating a performance improvement plan as a supplement to the documentation of poor performance.

In either case, make sure to review the documents with the employee and have him or her sign it to acknowledge the receipt of your communication efforts.

If the employee doesn’t improve by the date set, you should bring this signed documentation to the termination meeting to further validate your decision.

So let’s say the employee isn’t improving, is still causing a lot of disruption, lost productivity, or a major workplace problem – that’s when you decide it’s time for the person to exit the organization.

  • DO prepare.

Review associated state and federal laws and understand the risks that exist with terminations – as well as the risks of keeping a non-performer.

It’s usually a good idea to consult with a 3rd party advisor, such as an HR expert or attorney, to test the risks associated with your plan of termination.

Plan what you will say ahead of time, including the reason for termination. Sometimes practicing the discussion with a confidential resource can really help.

Keep the meeting short  – if you don’t control the meeting, it can quickly become a debate. More on that later…

  • DO select a private, neutral meeting place.

This shows the employee that you respect their privacy.

  • DON’T do it alone.

At least two company representatives should always be present at termination meetings. Typically, this includes the employee’s supervisor and a member of upper management or an HR representative.

During The Termination Meeting:

  • DO keep the meeting short.

Termination meetings should not last longer than 15 minutes. This brings us to the next point…

  • DON’T go in-depth about the employee’s past behavior.

The details may open up an unwanted, and potentially hostile, discussion. Make the reason for the termination clear, but keep it short and simple.

  • DON’T open up a debate about the grounds for termination.

Say the decision is final, non-negotiable, and has been unanimously agreed upon.

  • DO be respectful and cordial.

This will help prevent wrongful termination claims. Employees who sue for wrongful termination usually do so out of resentment, not due to facts.

  • DON’T have an emotionally-charged discussion.

Keep to the facts.

After The Termination Meeting:

  • DO close the meeting with administrative tasks. This includes:

A. Depending on your state’s requirements, providing the final paycheck and any appropriate paperwork.

B. Discussing how benefits, such as health insurance, will be affected. It can be helpful to have this in writing so that the employee has it with them when they leave and will not contact you with further questions. We recommend a letter that outlines the date of termination and contact information for the company’s insurance broker, retirement plans, etc.

  • DO allow the employee to compose themselves before leaving.

Remember that making the employee immediately encounter their colleagues could be embarrassing for them. When possible, be mindful of their response and give them time to regain composure if needed.

  • DO have assigned personnel escort the employee out of the building.

This is a standard safety and security precaution.

The “escort” can provide the employee with a box to put their personal items in and make sure all keys and company property are collected. If circumstances necessitate, it may be beneficial for an employee to return to the office to collect personal belongings at a later date, under supervision.

The “escort” will also lower the chance of an outburst and keep disruption to a minimum.

In some cases where security could be a serious matter, consider the value of an off-duty police officer or security personnel.

  • DO let employees know that the former employee has departed.

Typically, a short verbal statement to co-workers or sending an email the next day is a good practice.

But DON’T give the reason for the discharge, except for on a need-to-know-basis (e.g. People who need to know the details include the employee’s supervisor if they weren’t already involved and other appropriate senior management).

There you have it: the Do’s and Don’t’s of termination meetings.

Hopefully you won’t have to use these tips too often.

But now you have the tools to conduct an efficient and professional termination meeting. Not to mention, one with a lower risk of wrongful termination claims.

The best part? No sad face emojis required!

Wait! Before you go, we must have a little disclaimer…

DISCLAIMER: This is HR Advice. This blog is NOT legal advice. As we stated above, we recommend that you consult with a 3rd party advisor such as an HR expert (contact ours here) or employment law attorney to test the risks associated with your termination plan.


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