The pandemic has prompted many employees to reevaluate their work-life balance and career goals, leading to “The Great Resignation.” The current U.S. unemployment rate is 3.6% and there are myriad factors causing a labor shortage. Despite these challenges, employers may still find themselves having to fire employees.
All terminations should be handled with care; however, firing an employee “for cause”— should be handled even more carefully to avoid pushback, complaints, and litigation. Dismissals are unpleasant for employers and employees alike; but done right, a termination meeting can reduce former employee angst and might enable both sides to move forward with minimal difficulty. If a former employee can accept the reality of their separation, they are less likely to view the termination as “wrongful.” Instead of making an impulsive decision in the heat of the moment, managers should plan the termination to optimize the opportunity to communicate clearly. Ideally, poorly-performing employees should never be surprised when they are dismissed. Progressive discipline can pave the way to a smoother termination. Prior to the termination, a manager should thoroughly document performance problems in detail, as well as the employer’s efforts to provide additional training, support, and perhaps even a formal “performance improvement plan.” They should also document their follow-up to provide feedback and determine if goals have been met. This way, if goals have not been met, and the employee continues to perform poorly, a termination will not come as a shock.
The little things
A manager can make a difficult situation less painful, demonstrate compassion towards the departing employee, and communicate that the termination is purely a business decision—not a personal one. An employer might want to consider some gestures that can help an employee come to terms with the new reality:
- Find an out-of-the-way conference room instead of calling them into your office.
- Bring in an HR person or upper-level manager to add a third-party perspective to the termination.
- Have documentation on hand, including the performance improvement plan and other materials, that explain the termination.
- Provide an exit package that includes a written notice of termination, information on their final paycheck, benefits, and how to sign up for COBRA.
The final details
If possible, consider a formal exit interview. Make an appointment for the employee to return any company equipment used outside the workplace. During the exit interview, it may be necessary to remove the employee’s access to sensitive information, client files, trade secrets, and important company information. Handling this process in a respectful way can go a long way towards encouraging a former employee to look to the future rather than dwell on the past. Finally, management should announce the departure to the staff with information regarding who will handle the ex-employee’s responsibilities. Management should be mindful not to disclosure any confidential information.
Following these or similar steps can help limit the potential for a lawsuit. They also set a tone of clarity and respect that others inside the company can see. If you have questions or concerns before you terminate an employee, consult an employment law attorney.
If you have questions how to terminate an employee, or any other area of employment law, contact Thatcher Law Firm at 301-441-1400. www.ThatcherLaw.com. We help employees protect their rights against various forms of discrimination and retaliation. We also provide training to employers at the corporate and small business levels on a variety of employment issues ranging from discrimination/retaliation to Covid-19. Follow us on: