The Termination Conversation

Any person who has been through the task of terminating the employment of another person will tell you – it’s HARD. Well, I should qualify that. It SHOULD be hard. If you’re in a position that puts you in charge of someone else’s livelihood, and you don’t take that responsibility seriously, you should consider finding a new vocation.

Even if an employee deserves to be fired, and hopefully they do if you find yourself at this point, they are still a person who may have a family to support and has needs to be met outside of your business. I don’t think I have ever had a termination conversation with someone that didn’t feel difficult. I’m ok with that – it makes me a better HR professional and a better human. If you feel badly about having to have the termination conversation – you are not alone.

  • Before you terminate the employee, ask yourself, “Will they be surprised to be fired?” If the answer is yes – do not terminate them yet as this may indicate that you have not had the proper coaching or conversations with them. It is not advisable, or fair, to terminate someone when they did not know there was a rule that was broken, that their performance was inadequate, or that their behavior was unacceptable.
  • If you feel the need to have someone else present during the conversation, arrange to have someone there that will not be a distraction. If possible, have that person wait outside the office or general area that the conversation is taking place. A termination should not also be a humiliation so always try to avoid making it a spectacle.
  • Make sure that you have documentation of the conversation when it is finished. You should, at a minimum, have some notes that state why the employee was terminated, the date and time of the conversation, and your signature. Any additional notes you take on the response of the employee could be helpful.
  • I very rarely advise that you give the employee the chance to continue work after knowing that their employment is being terminated. Generally, the employee has done something that you do not find acceptable, so why do you still want them there? Also, an employee who has been asked to leave involuntarily will likely have a less than charitable attitude about you and your business – which is not something you want hanging around your other employees, customers, or yourself. The end of the conversation should include giving them a little time to gather personal items and then leave the premises.
  • If you feel the need to prepare a severance package, make sure it also includes a general release of liability. Ask your HR professional or an attorney for help if you need it.
  • After the employee leaves, make sure you disable their access to your records and facility immediately. If you are able to take some of these steps beforehand, I suggest you do all you can ahead of time. This means disabling email accounts, making necessary changes to cell phone numbers and accounts, changing alarm codes, collecting keys or rekeying locks, etc.
  • Most of the time, the employee you are planning to terminate will be expecting the conversation. It generally takes less than 10 minutes from the time you call them in to the time they leave. Be concise, you don’t need to give more information that what is necessary. If you feel it is appropriate, wish them well in the future. This can be a great closing remark and may not only make them feel a little better but can also help remind them that you are a kind and generous person, not one against which they would want to file a claim.

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