Avoid Employee Termination Pitfalls by Preparing Groundwork

Termination of an employee can be one of the most challenging duties of a manager or small business owner. At times, the task is beyond unpleasant and borders upon being positively painful for all parties involved. Still, the undertaking can be less problematic if the manager does it the right way. In fact, terminating an employee the wrong way can result in more than an unpleasant experience, as it might result in employee reinstatement, EEOC discrimination complaints, or various legal issues including lawsuits. So, what is the best way to terminate an employee?

All in all, no concrete methods exist to avoid all negative repercussions of an employee termination, but there are some ways to minimize fallout.

Most importantly, it is crucial to lay the termination groundwork. Gather documentation, including records of all verbal reprimands, written reprimands, suspensions, job evaluations, notices of deficiency, and any other relevant paperwork. In my managerial experience, the number one reason for negative repercussions after terminating an employee is a lack of appropriate documentation. More often than not, employees are not terminated for one isolated incident, but rather, they are terminated for a negative pattern of behavior over an extended period of time.

Next, familiarize yourself with all related state and federal laws before meeting with the employee and, if necessary, seek legal help. Management should also consult with superiors and appropriate human resources personnel.

Before the meeting, carefully prepare your words and keep it to the relevant facts. In addition, prepare the termination letter. Meet with the employee in private, but ask a witness to attend the meeting with you. The witness can be a trusted supervisor or a fellow manager, but definitely not a peer of the terminated employee.

The employee should be told the reason for termination. When necessary, lay out all documentation and emphasize that you were left with no other option than termination. Do not apologize for the action, as an apology sounds like management is accepting blame for the termination. Obviously, this does not apply in layoffs and downsizing, but it does apply in termination for poor performance and “termination for cause.”

Do not argue with the employee about the fine points of the termination. Be firm, but not argumentative. Be assertive, but not confrontational. Avoid demeaning comments and do not use inflammatory language. Remember, you have no reason to argue since the final decision has already been made. Often, the employee will try to talk you out of your decision for termination, so it is best to end the conversation if it goes in that direction.

Once the meeting is over, it is better to minimize the terminated employee’s exposure to other organizational personnel. Be prepared to stand up and escort the terminated employee from the facility, but only after collecting all company belongings.

In the end, treat the terminated employee how you would want to be treated if roles were reversed. Better yet, behave toward them the same way you would behave toward a family member in the same position. Strangely enough, my experience has shown that this positive behavior in a negative situation will allow you to terminate an employee, while often retaining his or her respect.