So you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being the bearer of bad news. Here are a few things that I have found will make the whole experience of terminating someone a lot easier for all those involved.
Don’t make it personal. Simply state the facts and leave out additional narratives. Explanations like: “Your position has been eliminated due to a restructuring” or “You failed to meet the objectives of your performance improvement plan” are reasons enough for this final conversation. The focus of your discussion should be on turnover of work and post-termination benefits. Avoid promises to provide personal references or future job opportunities to non-performing terminated employees. Save your favors for the people who deserve them.
Be private, nice, and sincere. Find a private and quiet place to conduct the termination and check your anger and frustration at the door. It’s too late to save the employee’s job so criticizing their past performance isn’t going to help your cause or be constructive in any way. Try to find a sincere way to thank the employee for their contributions and efforts. You can empathize with the employee’s situation but steer clear of offering advice on what they should do next.
Don’t rub salt in an open wound. Termination compensation can sometimes be a complicated affair. Is there accrued and unused vacation, unexercised stock options, or unpaid overtime? Provide the employee with instructions on contacting the company after termination and allow the employee to challenge your computations. Document your decisions regarding claims for additional compensation. This is one place that being the Grinch can really come back to haunt you. Err on the side of caution and pay the employee everything due to them at termination or shortly thereafter. Lawsuits are expensive so providing the employee a reason to file one is not wise. When necessary, take extra time to explain to the employee how their termination benefits are calculated and obtain their agreement of your math thereof.
Save the termination interview questions for a much later date. Time heals all wounds so give the employee a few weeks to cool down before asking for feedback.
Save the security guards for reality TV shows. It’s generally a good practice to escort the employee out quietly. If handled properly, terminations rarely get out of hand so having menacing security presence is only going to make you look weak and insecure.
Document everything beforehand and prepare for the worst. Make sure you have your ducks in a row before you pull the trigger. You can use the following points as suggestions for your future termination events.
- Employee File. Is the employee’s file updated with all the necessary documentation regarding events leading up to and including the termination? Has the file been reviewed by HR and legal?
- Notification. Are you prepared regarding coworker and customer notifications? Has your IT department been notified to disable login accounts, remote access and to safeguard and protect intellectual property? Have you planned for how incoming email and phone calls will be handled?
- Company Property. What keys, badges, or company assets are in the employee’s possession? Don’t forget about customer lists, billing records, and other company information that the employee may have.
- Post Termination Expectations. Do you have a separation agreement prepared? Is the employee subject to non-compete or non-solicitation for a period? You should cover these and your expectations of the employee post termination.
- Comply with Special Termination Laws. You may have a requirement to coordinate COBRA benefits at a State or Federal level or pay the employee their final paycheck upon termination. Compliance penalties are expensive and time consuming so outsourcing these activities is often the best solution for most companies.
Use these few simple suggestions effectively for your next termination to reduce uncertainty, anxiety, and liability and to increase your confidence during these unpleasant but necessary duties of a being manager. Your company and former employee will appreciate your handling of the most difficult of situations with poise and grace.