Retaining Tips

Letting Go: Terminating Employees
Sensitively and Smartly

Part 2 (continued from October 2001 Recruiting, Inspiring & Retaining E-zine)

() Work out all the details of any severance package before the termination meeting. You may want to ask the employee to sign a severance agreement with a litigation waiver if you are providing assistance above and beyond what laid off employees typically receive. (For employees 40 and older, make sure the agreement includes conditions and language consistent with the older Worker Benefit Protection Act.)

() Have a plan for retrieving any money or equipment the employee needs to return.

() Be prepared to answer the employee's questions about departure, references, unemployment, COBRA, and any assistance in finding another job.

() Strongly consider providing some outplacement assistance. This often redirects any employee anger into constructive efforts.

() Carefully craft your opening statement, clearly communicating that the employee is being terminated and why. While showing compassion, convey that all relevant managers agree with the decision, that all factors have been weighed, and that the decision is final--not open to discussion or negotiation. You may want to rehearse this statement or write it out.

() Cite reasons for the dismissal briefly and factually. don't make value judgments or attempt to analyze.

() Don't apologize, and don't take responsibility for the failure. You may want to just express regret that the opportunity did not work out.

() Don't talk about "how difficult this is for me." You still have a job, and the employee may resent your indulging in your discomfort.

() Have documentation of transgressions or poor evaluations on hand, but don't use them unless necessary. Make sure that the documentation is 100 percent accurate so you aren't compromised in any future legal proceedings.

() Aim for a 5- to 10-minute meeting. Maintain control of the session and don't stray from the central issue. If the employee gets argumentative, keep your responses measured and factual.

() Hold the meeting in a private area. If no neutral area is available or appropriate, the supervisor's office is fine.

() The ideal number of people representing the firm is usually two. (You want a witness, and you don't want someone to be alone with an employee who could get combative.) The person who evaluated the employee should participate, and the other representative might be from human resources.

() Arrange for the employee to remove personal effects in private.

() Terminate employees before Friday. Most experts prefer this timing because you're not ruining someone's weekend; the employee can immediately consult with a counselor, attorney, or other helpful professional; and fellow employees aren't building questions or anger over an entire weekend.

() Terminate employees at the end of the day. Letting someone go earlier can imply severe wrongdoing and "defame by innuendo."

() Try to avoid terminating employees around holidays or birthdays.

() Determine what will be said to remaining employees. The best route is usually to be quite general ("It just didn't work out") while avoiding dishonesty.

() Offer a delayed telephone exit interview, if appropriate, to demonstrate respect for the employee's observations and ideas.

() Try to end the termination meeting on an upbeat note, such as your organization's willingness to provide transition tools to the employee.

() Document the termination conference.

() If you need to terminate some employees and layoff others, try to do the terminating first. If you let everyone go at the same time, the laid off employees may blame their departures on failure to get rid of the poor performers.

Talking pains to terminate employees sensitively is the humane thing to do, and it is good business. You want a reputation for fairness and compassion throughout your industry and community, and you want to minimize any risk of litigation or charges of discrimination within your organization.

Remember that employers with 100 or more employees are covered by WARN--the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act. Effected nationally in February 1989, the act required employers to provide at least 60 days notice of plant closings and mass layoffs.

Thanks to our friends at the Human Resource Department for letting us print this.

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