When it’s time to part company…

Jennifer L'Estrange
August 31, 2018

No one looks forward to firing someone. It’s one of the hardest things we do as leaders. The conversation is confronting, we don’t know how the person will react and, honestly, we don’t get a lot of practice.

Here are a few suggestions to help you if you’re planning to part company with an employee.

1. Prepare.

Everything you do to prepare will support the overall goal: a conversation where employer and employee agree to part ways without unnecessary conflict or additional issues later. Speak to your employment attorney to draft a separation and general release agreement that outlines terms and conditions for severance. The document will outline the rights and obligations of both parties. It should be ready and in-hand when you go into the meeting. Expect questions on severance, bonuses and commissions, medical benefits, and job search.

This is not where you want to skimp on legal fees and support services.  The money you spend preparing could save you ten-fold in litigation expenses.

2. Have outplacement ready.

Outplacement or counseling services can be a valuable addition to a termination package. Too often, however, the outplacement contract is time delimited and employees fail to engage immediately. Ask your outplacement provider to either be present the day of notification or contact the employee immediately following the meeting. For cases where outplacement is not being provided, you can still recommend a service that the employee can look into independently.

Employees that are terminated for performance reasons often need help working out how to communicate the news to family and friends. They won’t know what to say and a good outplacement service will be able to help.

3. When possible, give them transition time.

It’s not always possible, but consider letting the employee remain in position after notification and begin their job search. Most employers notify and exit the same day, creating a whirlwind of unexpected change for the employee. It slows their ability to begin their job search. If you plan a transition where the employee has some time to begin their job search while still in position, you can build in time for knowledge transfer to colleagues as well.

Giving employees time to begin job search before they leave helps keep valuable organizational knowledge from being lost and passes an important message to rest of the workforce on how to treat your employees as they exit.

4. Set the scene appropriately.

Set the meeting up for success by selecting the time and place for the conversation. The meeting should be in-person, in a private office, and separated from other team members.  If working in an open space, take team members out of the space while the employee clears their personal effects.  Be prepared for an emotional reaction (put a box of tissues within easy reach) and make sure that they have a little time to compose themselves before leaving.

Video and telephone terminations rarely go well. If at all possible, do it in person. If there is no option, then setup two conversations. The first is to notify the employee that they are being terminated and the second is to review the terms and conditions of the separation agreement once they have received a copy of the agreement and have had a chance to review it. Bear in mind that that are not obliged to have the second call and may prefer to speak to an attorney instead.

5. Keep it simple.

Keep your vocabulary simple and to the point.  Empathizing with the employee is natural, but don’t revisit prior conversations or get into a negotiation.  Let them know what is happening, why it is happening, and the next steps.  If you are asking them to leave immediately, you may give them the option to say goodbye to co-workers and decide together the best way to handle their personal belongings. Do not ask them to sign the agreement in the meeting, but rather encourage them to review it with someone they trust or seek out an attorney for outside counsel.

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