Employee Terminations : Must Know Tips for HR

People break up all the time. Every day, all over the world. But whether a breakup will actually hurt your company has a lot to do with how the message is delivered to the outgoing employee and the process that went into crafting it.

Good thing we have tremendous help in the form of vague pop culture references to guide us. Here are four somewhat familiar tips that will help HR professionals terminate an employee for good and protect their companies in the process.

1. “You should just do it like a Band-Aid. One motion! Right off!” – Jerry Seinfeld

In the episode “The Ex-Girlfriend,” George Costanza has trouble breaking up with Marlene, a woman who actually found and seduced him. “Can’t I do it over the phone?” George pleads with Jerry. “I have no stomach for these things.”

No George, you can’t. You need to do it face-to-face and you need to deliver the message in a compassionate way, so that Marlene knows that you still care about her, but that the relationship is really over. And that is final.

In the HR world, a face-to-face termination meeting is almost always the best way to go. But think less “it’s not you, it’s me,” and more “right off!” You don’t want an employee leaving that meeting unclear as to what will happen going forward. After all, Marlene rejected George’s breakup because he had so much trouble delivering the message.

2. “Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Mark Twain

In the vast majority of cases, an employee termination happens gradually over time. And during that process, which presumably includes things like progressive discipline, written and verbal warnings and performance improvement plans, several different employees are interacting with the soon-to-be-fired employee.

Are all of them trained on how best to go through the termination process? Do they know what to say and what not to say so that the organization can protect itself?

Training your team of managers and supervisors about the ins and outs of employee termination is not something that people will look forward to. But it is a necessary skill for them to have so that when the time comes, they operate like a well-oiled machine as opposed to…cabbage.

3. “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.” Cathy Ryan in Tom Clancy’s “Debt of Honor”

You trained your employees on what to say and what not to say, and you had the face-to-face meeting with the employee, but…did you write any of it down? Did you document the progressive disciplinary process in a thorough and objective way? Do you have copies of the written warning letters and the results of performance improvement plans organized in a personnel file?

Can you prove that you informed the employee of his or her ongoing disciplinary measures or your findings pertaining to performance? Did you send a follow-up employee termination letter to memorialize the termination meeting?

If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then there may be some holes in your company’s lines of defense.

4. “I don’t wanna die at James Franco’s house.” Jay Baruchel in “This is the End”

Maybe you got to the point where you decided that you have to get rid of an employee, but you don’t have all the fancy documentation to support your decision. It’s not considered good practice to proceed this way, but it happens. Files get lost and incidents happen that simply require a quick fix.

The key in situations like this is not to turn a bad situation into the Apocalypse. Don’t embarrass the employee simply because it has to happen hastily or because the misconduct in question was particularly egregious. Keep the details confidential where possible and offer the employee the opportunity to leave with dignity. Don’t make him or her go out in a bad way. In short, take the high road even when things look grim. Nobody wants to die at James Franco’s house with the whole world watching.

In sticky situations, you may also want to offer the employee a severance package in exchange for some concessions like restrictive covenants or confidentiality agreements. Do tread carefully, though, as the NLRB has been busy recently.

Also Posted in xpertHR.co.uk