Terminating an employee is a difficult and uncomfortable experience, but it can be done efficiently and professionally. Being respectful of the terminated employee helps reduce the risk of wrongful termination claims for the organization and betters the chances that he or she will walk away without engaging in retaliatory behavior.
Although most separations go smoothly, any termination can go wrong, and notably, terminations and layoffs are the leading cause of workplace violence committed by employees.
For these reasons it’s wise to review your outplacement practices and conduct a preliminary threat assessment to ensure safety.
First, someone being let go for poor performance shouldn’t be surprised by that determination. Before a termination meeting takes place, poor performance should be documented and communicated to the employee and that communication acknowledged with their signature.
If things have not improved, bring the signed documentation to the meeting to validate the termination decision and remind the employee of the events that led to that decision.
It’s a good idea to review relevant state and federal laws around terminations and understand the potential liability present. It could also be beneficial to consult with a third party, such as CJC HR Services, to set up a plan for a difficult termination.
Security measures should also be prepared prior to the termination meeting. For example:
- Hold the meeting in a safe location, such as in a room near an exit, a room with more than one exit or a room with a clear path to exits.
- Clear the room of potential weapons, including staplers, letter openers and scissors.
- Hold the meeting with two or three people present in addition to the employee, for example, a threat management team of individuals who are trained in the process and knowledgeable about the available resources and protocol. A threat assessment team can include members of HR, management, legal or security.
- Ready a response plan.
- Bring security onsite or hold the meeting offsite for high-risk individuals.
Delivering the Message
In delivering the message, management should be brief and to the point, providing clear reasoning for the termination. You don’t want the meeting to turn into an emotional debate.
Meetings shouldn’t last longer than 15 minutes and managers should be provided with a written script spelling out exactly what to say and what to avoid. The meeting is not a negotiation. Communicate the reasons for the termination clearly, and express that the decision is final.
While the communication is decidedly one-sided, HR and managers present should show respect during the meeting, stating the company’s position without using slander, humiliation or criticism. If possible, allow the departing employee to save face and maintain self-esteem by acknowledging their strengths and contributions. This will help prevent wrongful termination claims.
Additionally, employers are recommended to explain what the company policy is regarding final pay, benefits information, references, returning to the office, collecting personal items and communicating with other employees.
An important element of the threat assessment process is knowing what to look for during interactions with the separating employee. If you hear, “I’m going to get even” or “You’ll be sorry,” take the comments seriously and report them to the appropriate person.
- Resist the urge to return threats. Instead, offer support. Disarm anger by listening and showing empathy.
- Be on the lookout for employees not accepting fault, blaming others, expressing a sense of injustice or complaining about conspiracies. Note fatalistic statements, hopelessness and despair.
- Be aware of situational risk factors, such as mental health, substance abuse, family or relationship troubles, and preoccupation with weapons.
As part of the separated employee’s exodus following the termination meeting, management should take the following steps to ensure safety while allowing the employee to keep his or her dignity:
- Close IT access to prevent sabotage and theft.
- Take back company materials, keys, access cards and the like. Change the access codes or locks.
- Allow the employee to compose themselves before leaving.
- Having assigned personnel escort the employee out of the building is becoming a standard safety precaution, but be aware that it will engender bad will, even with the staff that remains. It may be beneficial for an employee to return to the office under supervision to collect personal belongings at a later date.
- Watch departing employees as they go to their vehicle and ensure that they depart the premises. It is possible that they have weapons in their car.
- Let staff know that the former employee has departed in a short statement but don’t reveal details for the discharge.