Over the past several weeks, we have discussed how to handle employee situations involving misconduct and poor performance. Now, the situation has progressed to the point that you and your management team, including HR, have decided to terminate the employee. It is critical that you handle that involuntary termination well because of the impact on the employee, the organization, your other employees, and yourself. The following are recommendations I have for you on handling this very challenging situation.
The Goal for an Involuntary Termination Meeting
My recommendations are divided into pre-meeting, meeting, and post-meeting activities with one goal in mind: to conduct a meeting that is respectful of the employee, but directly communicates to them that their employment has ended. Regarding respect, studies have shown that employees are less likely to take legal action when they feel like they were treated respectfully during the termination process. The meeting needs to be direct because there can’t be any confusion for the employee regarding their status.
Employee Termination: Pre-meeting Activities
Planning is key for your pre-meeting activities. Here are some areas you need to discuss and cover with HR and the management team before you meet with the employee:
- Make sure you have all the materials you need. This includes any required documents or payments required by state or federal authorities. (In California, this includes their final paycheck.)
- Determine who will be in the meeting. I usually recommend that the employee’s manager and an HR representative participate.
- Determine if there are any safety or security issues anticipated because of the termination. This includes systems, facility access, etc. (Note: if you have any concerns about potential violence, I strongly recommend you contact a resource such as the Baron Center, which has experts who can help you with assessments and other assistance.)
- Arrange for the meeting logistics. This includes the room location, the day, and the time the meeting will be held. I recommend that you don’t schedule terminations on Fridays because you want to ensure that the employee can contact someone at the company to follow up on questions regarding benefits, etc. Otherwise, they will just stew over their situation and questions over the weekend.
- Determine seating arrangements for the meeting. Try to seat the employee so that he or she has a direct path out of the room. They may need to run out of the room, and you don’t want to be between them and the door.
- Develop a plan to communicate the news. Particularly to your other employees who work closely with the employee you are terminating.
- Prepare your words. Plan out what you are going to say and what you aren’t going to say to the employee (see below).
Employee Termination: The Meeting
- The termination meeting should be short, direct and respectful.
- At the start, don’t make jokes and small talk. This is a serious matter and you don’t want to detract from that or mislead the employee into thinking that you are making light of their situation, or that they aren’t being terminated.
- Don’t bring emotion into the meeting. You may be angry or sad about the employee’s performance, but you don’t want to heighten the situation for the employee.
- You, as the manager, can start by referencing the last discussion you had with the employee regarding their performance or behavior. Then, tell the employee that their employment is being terminated effective that day and provide the reason for termination (i.e. repeated tardiness, sexual harassment, performance in the job). Explain that there is some information to cover, and turn the discussion over to HR to review the information and material that the employee is receiving.
- It is hard to predict how the employee will react. The emotional reactions of employees can vary widely. I have seen employees immediately start crying, become visibly angry, storm out of the room, go into shock, and even accept the termination with tremendous grace and dignity.
- What if they want to argue or debate their termination? You need to cut that off by saying that the decision is final and not open to debate. You may need to say this several times.
- Don’t make statements that may make you feel better but, again, may trigger more negative emotions for the employee. These would be statements like “I know how you feel” or “I am sorry”. You are not in their shoes and they may feel like you are minimizing the impact to them or not being real with them. (For example, if you felt sorry about the situation, why are you terminating them?)
- Don’t blame others for the employee’s termination such as “upper management made the final decision.”
- At this point, many employees who are being terminated are overloaded and you may find that they can’t hear what you are saying or, as I said earlier, they may just run out of the room. They need to take their information with them and have a contact name and number to follow-up on their paperwork, etc.
Employee Termination: Post-Meeting
After the termination, you need to communicate the news to your other employees. You should just tell them that the employee doesn’t work there effective that day but you don’t need to tell them why. (They probably already know.) But, you do need to communicate the plan for handling that employee’s work going forward, including whether you will hire a replacement.
Once they’ve processed the news, the employee may make certain requests such as collecting personal items from their work area. Work with them to try and meet their requests as best you can, although include HR if the employee requests information from their employee file, etc.
Hopefully, you won’t ever have to conduct an involuntary termination. But, if you do, plan well and then follow through.
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