No matter the industry or company size, eventually all HR personnel and employers will have to terminate an employee. It’s a grim, but necessary, part of reality in the human resources field. An employee may violate a company’s policy, fail to improve from a poor performance review, or just isn’t the right fit and terminating their employment is the only viable solution.
When these occasions arise, it’s imperative that you handle the employee’s termination in the most professional and effective way possible. Doing so can save you headaches down the road. Here are the 6 steps to terminating an employee in a manner will best help you and them through the transition.
1) Make Sure You Understand Why Termination is the Best Solution
In some cases, the decision to terminate an employee will be an easy one. Perhaps the employee committed an act of theft, sexual harassment, or violence so blatant that keeping them in the company is simply untenable.
But, in most cases, the decision to terminate might be more difficult. If the employee’s performance is poor, can you be sure that they are unable or unwilling to perform their duties? Perhaps they were improperly trained and can benefit from additional training? Or perhaps other circumstances are inhibiting their full potential?
Even if you work in an at-will employment state, you should be confident that you are making the right choice and that you gave the employee in question reasonable opportunity to improve their performance to company standards. Moving to termination too quickly can paint your company in a negative light, which can be damaging to employee morale and when seeking future replacements for employees.
2) Make Sure Everyone is on the Same Page
Work with managers ahead of time on the decision to terminate so they can prepare for the shift in workload and responsibilities that comes with a termination. While making these plan, ensure the employee in question doesn’t hear through the grapevine about their impending termination.
3) Prepare Fully for the Meeting
Before the termination meeting, it’s important that you’ve prepared for both the employee’s questions and concerns and have taken steps to best protect the Company in worst-case scenarios. Always arrange for another member of the HR staff or another manager to be present so that there is a witness to what occurred during the meeting. This can be vital for defending yourself if the employee makes a claim about your statements or if you have reason to suspect the employee might become hostile.
It’s also important to review the employee’s file, especially to note the records concerning the reasons you are terminating their employment. You should also know the company’s policies regarding the employee’s health insurance policy, severance pay, bonuses, pensions, etc. It’s natural for the employee to have questions and you should anticipate those questions and be able to answer them.
4) Be Direct and Move as Quickly as Possible
Once the meeting starts, tell the employee that you are terminating early in the conversation. You may feel tempted to start with a joke or with small talk, but this will only catch the employee off guard when the truth about the purpose of the meeting arises. This can engender hostility or other feelings of negativity. Allowing no room for confusion might seem like the harsher option, but it will be better for both you and the employee.
It’s also important to explain concisely and professionally why they are being terminated. Try to keep the explanation short. You may feel that you need to over-explain why, out of empathy, but saying too much or phrasing it poorly can open you up for a lawsuit, even in an at-will employment state. If your employee failed to meet a sales goal, for instance, say “You failed to meet the sales quota for this quarter,” and not “You’re a bad salesperson.”
5) Maintain a Consistent and Reasonable Tone
This might be the most difficult task when terminating an employee, but it’s important that you appear professional without appearing heartless. Acting too aloof or cold can make the transition all the more painful, but acting or sounding apologetic may make it seem like your decision is negotiable.
Be calm, certain, and respectful. Don’t engage in personal attacks or assumptions. Don’t get drawn into arguments or name calling and stick to the facts.
6) End the Meeting as Soon as is Reasonable
A meeting about an employee’s termination shouldn’t exceed fifteen to twenty minutes. While you should answer an employee’s questions, especially about tying up loose ends in the office, you shouldn’t allow them to fruitlessly argue or debate with you. If you feel that the conversation is getting sidetracked, end the meeting respectfully.
Take the opportunity to thank the employee for their service and contributions before the meeting ends. This can help ease the transition and show goodwill, even in a difficult time. The terminated employee might still feel resentful, confused, or depressed by the news, even if you handle their termination professionally. They might still speak of your company poorly, out of spite. However, handling terminations in a cordial manner will help maintain your company’s reputation and will make the transition easier for everyone involved.
Terminating an employee can still prove to be a challenge, even for experienced HR personnel. That’s where Insight Performance can help. We provide HR resources and counseling to help you through difficult decisions with best practices. Call us today to learn more.