There are two basic principles that should guide every termination process: preparation and documentation.
Preparation includes all of the communications that employees receive explaining your company’s general expectations, along with specific work requirements and policies.
These start at the very beginning with the job application form. Here, the language should be neutral, business-focused, and non-discriminatory. The same is true for every job description.
Experts say that it’s essential to have a well-thought-out employee handbook that details your company’s policies and expectations. Specifically, you’ll want to lay out the general terms of employment, defining whether or not it’s an at-will relationship and describing your efforts to maintain a safe, discrimination-free workplace.
Then you can describe the normal review process, including how employee performance will be evaluated and what will happen if standards aren’t met. A separate section could describe expectations for professional behavior, absenteeism, dress code (if any), respect for co-workers and managers or direct reports, etc. This section should conclude with a description of behaviors that constitute grounds for dismissal.
Finally, the employee handbook should describe the termination process, and state how the distribution of final compensation and any benefits, such as medical insurance or accrued paid time off (PTO), will be handled.
With good preparation, you won’t find yourself trying to improvise the proper responses when a stressful situation arises with a problem employee. You’ll also have half of your legal protection strategy in place. The other half consists of following your stated policies and documenting your words as well as your actions every step of the way.
It’s up to you to establish the types of remediation efforts that are appropriate for your company. At a minimum, there should be some sort of formal meeting between the employee and his or her manager, possibly with a neutral third party in attendance. Here, the performance or behavior issues should be presented clearly and unemotionally, followed by a description of the steps the employee is expected to take in order to continue in your employ.
If the situation does not improve, some companies may require employees to attend sessions with professional counselors. In circumstances where a lawsuit seems likely, companies may launch a formal investigation to document as many facts as possible.
The termination process
Before notifying an employee of termination, HR experts advise holding a final internal meeting that includes the employee’s manager as well as staff members whose perspective is relevant to a sensitive personnel decision. This includes staff members such as an HR director, internal counsel, or a department head. The facts should be reviewed, with a discussion of the basis for the termination decision. And of course this meeting should be thoroughly documented.
Finally, the employee should be given the news in a face-to-face termination meeting. This should be held in a neutral setting such as a conference room, with witnesses present. In addition to verbal communication of the termination, the employee should be handed a termination letter that puts your decision in writing. It should explain how and when final compensation and benefits will be distributed. Notes should be taken to document the employee’s response, and all of these documents should be kept in the personnel file. Hopefully, you won’t ever need them.