Employee terminations, while difficult, are often an unavoidable part of the employee life-cycle. Whether you are a business leader, a small business owner, or an HR professional, there will be a time when you will conduct your first employee termination. There are several reasons why you may decide to end the employment relationship with a member of your team. Whether it be for economic reasons, poor work performance, the final step in discipline, or if it just isn’t working out anymore, it is critical that you understand your obligations under legislation and that you fully prepare for a very difficult conversation.

When employee terminations are conducted properly, the impacted individual is treated with respect and dignity. At the very least, the surviving employees should appreciate your professional approach, the departing employee should feel they have been treated fairly and your overall risk as an employer should be minimized.

Tips to Properly Conducting a Termination

  • Ensure that you have consulted with your human resources department, a qualified human resources consultant and/or an employment lawyer in advance. The proper approach to termination, severance and ongoing support is unique to every situation. Ensure you have considered all the factors before proceeding.
  • Have the termination package prepared for the meeting and ensure you are familiar with its contents. At a minimum, the letter should confirm the date of termination, the amount of notice (or pay in lieu) being provided, the severance package being offered and any other calculations impacting the employee financially (e.g. leave balances being paid out or money being deducted from final pay). Any other services being offered (e.g. access to a career transition professional, continued access to an EAP program, etc.) should be detailed and instructions on benefits terminations and options to convert benefits to an individual plan should be explained. The letter should also indicate the best person to contact with any questions, typically a member of the HR team or an independent HR professional. The termination package also typically contains a release to be reviewed and signed by the employee.
  • Plan to conduct the meeting face-to-face in a private setting where you will not be interrupted. Wherever possible, it is always a good idea to have another manager, a member of your HR team or an independent HR consultant in the room to support you.   Ideally, the manager should deliver the news of the termination to the employee and the HR professional should explain the contents of the termination package. If the employee is being asked to sign a release form, do not ask them to sign it during the meeting. Encourage them to take it home and review the document and ensure they understand they have the right to have the package reviewed by legal counsel.
  • If you work in a small office, try to hold the meeting first thing in the morning or close to the end of the day to ensure privacy for the employee leaving the building. Ideally, the meeting should not take place on a Friday. Terminations are often upsetting to the employee and they will likely have questions once they have accepted the difficult news. Holding the meeting during the week allows them time to ask any questions of human resources and review any documentation in a timely manner.
  • Do not prolong the meeting with small talk and try to ensure the message is succinct and direct. An employee will most often know why they are in the meeting and they will be stressed. Be clear on why the employee is being terminated and do not waver from the message or send mixed signals. The employee will likely be upset and or angry at the news. Once you have made the difficult decision to terminate, letting the employee believe you will reconsider the decision or are prepared to negotiate is not fair to them and only prolongs the process.
  • Have a plan for ensuring the employee exits the building in a timely and professional manner. People are often unpredictable when receiving bad news. While they may or may not show emotion initially, they will most likely go through stages of grief over their lost job. It is in the best interest of the company and the individual, that they not be present on site as they go through that process. Have someone pick up any obvious personal items (e.g. their coat, purse, car keys, personal cell phone) or offer to have them come back to get their things. Ensure access to company emails and systems are suspended and have the employee hand in any keys, mobile devices, files, etc. that belong to the company. Ensure you ask them if they are okay to drive and offer to call a taxi or other form of public transportation. Stay with them until they leave the premises.
  • Consider engaging the services of a career transition professional. Career transition is a service that: supports departing employees, provides resume and application advice, helps with personal branding and career planning, coaching, training, and career counselling, in effort to help the employee prepare for their next career. Offering career transition service has several benefits: it is very helpful for the departing employee as they navigate their way to a new opportunity; it sends the message to the rest of your team that you care about your people, even after the relationship ends; and it can help minimize risk to the company associated with wrongful dismissal claims.
  • Finally, don’t forget that the person being terminated is a human being. While you want to be careful to steer clear of any personal conversation, it is ok to demonstrate compassion. Where appropriate, thank the employee for their contributions to the organization and wish them all the best going forward. If the termination is not for cause or related to discipline, you may decide to put forward the offer to provide a letter of reference or offer to be a professional reference, depending on your company policies and the events leading to the termination.

Please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of steps in a termination. If you have questions, about employee terminations and/or career transition planning, contact Higher Talent Inc. at 709-739-1953 or at info@highertalent.ca.