Reducing Your Risk When Terminating Employees

By Linda Harris

Yeeeeeeaaaaah, let’s face it, no matter how you slice it … firing an employee can be difficult.

A termination goes beyond just having an employee’s final paycheck ready along with mandatory forms and pamphlets. It’s important that your company has a termination process in place that is consistently followed with every involuntary employee separation whether it is a) a termination for cause; b) a reduction in force; c) a facility closure; or d) the result of a merger or acquisition.

The loss of a job can be financially and emotionally devastating. Tough economic times can exacerbate the existing pressures that laid-off employees feel when having to find a new job and make ends meet. An appropriate, effective termination process will reduce the risk of:

  • Lawsuits
  • Potential workplace violence
  • Security breaches
  • Poor employee morale.

A coordinated, well-thought-out termination process helps both the employer and the employee in many ways.

Ten-Step Employee Termination Plan

How you exit an employee from your organization takes careful planning, anticipation, patience and genuine compassion. When developing your company’s termination process, it’s best to work with human resource professionals and legal counsel to develop a low-risk plan. A plan of action typically includes these ten elements:

1. Identify who in your organization has the authority to terminate an employment relationship.

2. Request that the human resources and/or legal department review each potential employee termination to ensure that:

  • All company policies are followed (i.e., discipline, at-will, internal dispute resolution, arbitration agreement, employment and union contracts, etc.).
  • A proper assessment is made to determine if the WARN (Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act is applicable.
  • Handling of employees is consistent throughout all terminations.
  • Documentation supports the action the company is taking.
  • An assessment of other risks and exposures are identified and assessed prior to termination, including age, race, pregnancy, workers compensation claims, recent participation in an investigation, and other factors.

3. Determine who will conduct the employee termination meeting. It should be someone trained in conducting terminations and who has demonstrated the ability to communicate with tact, diplomacy and patience.

4. Ensure a witness is present.

5. Select a time that is least disruptive to your business operation. Remember, if you let an employee go in the morning, many of your remaining staff will be talking about it the rest of the day, which can result in lower productivity and morale.

6. Plan and coordinate the following:

  • Safety — Anticipate reaction by the terminated employee; do you need security services?
  • Access — Shut down the terminated employee’s computer access, including remote access, in a timely manner.
  • Security — Cancel or disable all passwords.
  • Coverage — Who, if anyone, will need access to the employee’s documents and/or e-mails, and for how long?
  • Communication — Plan to reroute the employee’s e-mail and direct phone lines.
  • Authorization — Cancel all signing authority and company credit cards in a timely manner.
  • Transportation — Determine if the terminated employee carpools or takes public transportation. In the case of public transportation, show the employee respect by arranging for a taxi to take him or her home. This will also eliminate a possibly disgruntled employee from remaining on the company’s property.

7. Provide the final paycheck, including any accrued unused vacation, plus any required forms, separation agreements, and disclosures (change of relationship, COBRA, and EDD pamphlets, etc.).

8. Retrieve all company property (keys, laptop, cell phone, pagers, etc.).

9. Communicate the employee’s departure to remaining employees in a way that minimizes the impact to their morale and perception of the company.

10. Treat all employees (terminated and current) with dignity and respect. Remaining employees always watch how you exit employees from your organization, because they are thinking that next time it could be them.

Terminations are often based on business necessity or for cause; however, employers cannot lose sight of the human factor regardless of whether the employee did something wrong or if he or she was your best performer. If the termination is due to a reduction in the workforce, consider providing severance, outplacement services, or other assistance to help the terminated employee(s) refocus and transition in a positive manner as they make a new start.

For a free termination checklist contact Linda Harris at

Linda Harris, CEO, JorgensenHR helps companies develop and update their termination policies, procedures and processes. She has worked in the human resources field for the past 25 years. Linda can be reached at (661) 600-2070 or
Originally published: Sep 5, 2011

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