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    Involuntary Termination: The HR Do’s & Don’t’s

    July 7, 2022

    By Kiley VanGilder

    Let’s be real, involuntary termination is not easy. If you’ve been through the process I can almost guarantee you didn’t walk into the meeting or log in to a Zoom room with complete confidence and no uneasy feelings anywhere to be found. If you’re shaking your head in agreement, it’s because you’re human!

    We believe that involuntary termination is complex and nuanced. It is for this reason that we recommend our managers and leaders to try to be as objective as possible when making the tough decision to let someone go.

    No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, and no one enjoys walking into a situation where uncomfortable feelings will arise. When it comes to termination, However, with the proper knowledge and a solid foundation, terminating an employee can be a process we don’t love, but are able to navigate confidently. In this article, we will talk about:

    • How to craft and understand your company policies in a way that makes the decision black and white.
    • The importance of documentation
    • The step by step or making the termination decision
    • Planning a termination meeting or phone call (with a sample script!)
    • Our secret formula for ensuring the

    Curate Carefully Crafted Company Policies

    I know I know, you’ve been told that an Employee Handbook is a bunch of HR mumbo jumbo and your company is branching out from that stuffy corporate feel… so why would you incorporate a handbook with policies that you’ll never even glance at? Because policies protect you, your company, and your employees! It’s that simple.

    And when you protect your employees, you get a return on your investment, same goes for when you protect yourself with that same handbook. Instead of questioning every move you make when thinking about termination, you have a clear guide that allows that not so pretty situation to be a little less ugly. You have protection. You have a clearer path to a resolution. You have documentation to back you in that tough conversation.

    Let’s reframe this: building a handbook of your company policies is pretty stinking empowering.

    You get decide what it looks like to work for your company.

    You lay the foundation.

    You create the company culture you’ve always dreamed of working in.

    You choose the policies that matter.

    You enlist your team to help back up your foundation and culture.

    You protect your company and everyone involved.

    Keep Up With Documentation Practices

    Thoroughly documenting employee issues (and successes) is key. If an employee is being terminated for poor performance, there should be documentation outlining the meetings in which performance was discussed. If an employee has been on a performance improvement plan or received a verbal or written warning, there should be documentation inside of the employee’s file. You are not only protecting your company, you are also able to easily navigate back to this information which will help you determine if termination is something to consider, or not. Make sure your management team understands the importance of documentation and is making that a part of their day to day workflows as needed.

    Make sure your management team understands the importance of documentation and is making that a part of their day to day workflows.

    Once you decide termination is the route, make sure you are preparing all the termination documentation. (Download our termination checklist!) When you conduct the meeting, if in person, bring the documentation with you. If done virtually, send an email immediately following the meeting and make sure you plan out the conversation.

    Carefully Review the Situation

    It’s important to not act out of your own personal feelings or lack thereof, and do a full audit of the situation, so to speak. If the picture is clear and you know you’re making a rational decision, act quickly so you can separate the issue from your company to spare lingering trouble such as employee morale or client satisfaction.  If the picture is blurry, you aren’t quite sure if this situation qualifies for termination, review your policies and consult with the employee’s supervisor and/or your human resource guru. Having a handbook with clearly defined policies protects you and your company and may guide you to your answer. If you jump down to your no tolerance policy and see at the top of the list that your company will not allow discriminatory behavior, for example, and this employee has done just that, you are able to move forward knowing you have policy backing you. Some other termination quick tips:

    • Send a list of company property the employee needs to return and either give them a hard copy or send an email immediately following the meeting.
    • Conduct the meeting in a quiet, private space.
    • Do not label the meeting on your calendar if your team has access to the calendar (privacy is kind and important with this topic).
    • Explain how long the employee has to gather their personal belongings.
    • Clearly explain if they should finish their shift or log off immediately.
    • Remove company system access during the meeting if able, or do it immediately after, especially if an employee is upset.
    • Send a simple email to the team following the meeting, once the employee has left the building or logged off, that states so and so no longer works with the company, and to contact their supervisor if they have any questions.

    The Don’t’s of Termination 

    Don’t pass the baton to someone who does not directly supervise the employee 

    Doing so will only create trust issues with other employees. It may even make for a more uncomfortable situation due to the employee being terminated getting upset. It’s normal to want to delegate the tough tasks, but it is a no-no when it comes to terminating an employee. The supervisor should be the one to conduct the meeting and put together the termination paperwork. Of course, consulting with HR or their boss is recommended. It is also highly recommended to have another person in the room or on zoom during the termination discussion – we again recommend HR or the supervisor’s boss for this.  

    Your Emotions Are Not Important Right Now

    The challenge of involuntary termination often lies in our emotions. Ironically, your emotions are what makes you such a good manager in the first place.

    We often feel empathetic and don’t get us wrong, you can show sympathy to the employee. Keep in mind, some team members may be shocked and surprised, others may be angry and resentful, and some may even be devastated and openly emotional.

    We want to be clear and straightforward regardless of the reason we may be moving forward with termination. We are human, and we have emotions that oftentimes we cannot mask. The key to a compassionate termination is to remove your emotion from the discussion.

    Easier said than done, I know.

    Keep the reason you are in that meeting at the top of mind, and this will allow you to stay focused and limit the personal feelings you may have. Remember, this is not about you.

    Showing too much emotion can actually direct the meeting to a place you do not ever want to get to. When you try to agree or say something along the lines of “I know this isn’t what you wanted” you are actually opening a door for the team member to jump through, breaking boundaries that can actually make the situation worse than you intended.

    You are NEVER going to be able to make the employee feel better about what is going on, and that is not your responsibility. Once you make the final decision, you can not go back from it. You may even be in a position where an employee pleads for you to reconsider, or even verbally attacks you or their supervisor. Be prepared for these eventualities, and know that your employee needs direct answers more than they need a friend right now.

    We like to recommend a script like this for involuntary terminations:

    • Greet the employee
    • Be direct with the purpose of the conversation : “You are being laid off/terminated for misconduct/let go for performance issues”
    • Let the employee know the way the rest of the meeting is going to go
    • Inform them of final pay details
    • Inform them of benefits discontinuation
    • Let them know if they have to sign any paperwork
    • Let them know how to reach out should they have any follow up questions
    • End the conversation purposefully and directly

    Quick Tips: What NOT To Do

    • Don’t be inconsiderate of the time of day you choose to meet with the team member. If possible, try to wait to the end of their work hours or first thing in the morning.
    • Don’t discuss reasons behind employee termination with any other employees unless absolutely necessary.
    • Don’t allow the topic to be up for discussion amongst team members.
    • Identify the response and intentionality you will take with the rest of your team or clients before the employee is terminated.
    • Respect the privacy of the team member but be clear and straightforward about any changes or updates that are required.

    Termination is never fun or easy, but with knowledge and guides to help you through the process, you can get through it.

    Check out more in our HR On Retainer membership, and we can help guide you through these tough discussions so you feel prepared and supported.

    Are we friends on the ‘gram? If this blog was helpful, say hello!






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