Properly terminating an employee is one of the most important responsibilities of a manager.  It is also the most difficult task. Each termination needs to be thoroughly reviewed and well-planned and should always have Human Resource’s approval before taking any action.

An involuntary termination requires time and planning to avoid or reduce the risks of an unlawful discharge claim. Administering the termination requires tact and diplomacy and the ability to maintain control of the event.

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Involuntary terminations include reductions in force or lay-offs. There are other issues to consider with these events including compliance with the WARN Act.  The focus of this article is dealing with terminations that are a result of an employee’s poor performance or bad behavior.

Documentation/Supporting Your Decision: 

You want to determine you have supporting documentation of your decision.  History of these issues should be available through documented progressive disciplinary actions.  Review the employee’s personnel file to gather dates of previous warnings.  Documents should reference additional training or coaching, or actions taken by the manager to show the employee was given opportunity to improve.  Supporting back up like this is looked upon favorably by judges and adjudicators when determining the validity of an unlawful discharge claim or unemployment claim.

Consistency is extremely important in making the final determination to terminate employment.  Work with your Human Resources department to identify other employees whose performance or behavior issues are similar.  What actions were taken, and is it consistent with actions taken with the current employee in question?

Once it has been determined that the reason for termination is well supported with documentation and is consistent with other past actions, the notice of termination should be documented, referencing the past history by listing dates and level of disciplinary actions. Document only what you know are the facts and that can be defended in court. Keep the document short and to the point and provide signature lines for the employee, manager and a witness.


The second part of preparing for a termination is how, when and where it will be executed.  Consider the employee and how you predict their reaction will be, and then prepare for the most unlikely reaction as well.  I have been in Human Resources for over 13 years and unfortunately have had my share of terminations. From time to time I get an employee whose reaction was totally out of character. You can prepare for the soft-spoken, friendly employee, but the minute they are informed of their termination they can become aggressive and refuse to leave. Your exit plan must be laid out to prepare for the extreme.

Conduct the termination in an office that is not located in a high-traffic area, preferably close to an exit.  This will allow the employee to leave without the embarrassment of walking amongst his/her peers.  Have the employee’s purse, coat, or cell phone ready for them before they leave. Have the employee’s desk or work station cleared out during the meeting.  If this is not possible at the time (too many employees watching, or a large amount of personal items to pack), inform the employee to contact HR to schedule a time to pick them up.

Always have a witness at the termination.  Be calm and confident when giving the notice.  It should be brief and to the point.  Allow the employee to respond, but maintain control of the situation.  Once the employee has signed the termination notice, the manager walks the employee out the door.  The most important tip you can take away is to always allow the employee to maintain their dignity throughout the process.

Below is a checklist to use when faced with an involuntary termination:

  1. Notify HR Department
  2. Review Employee History/Personnel File
  3. Verify consistency with past employees
  4. Draft Notice of Termination
  5. Review of Notice of Termination by HR
  6. Prepare exit plan (time, place, witness)
  7. Personal belongings to be taken or picked up
  8. Does employee have any company property to return
  9. Does the employee have access to secured information, remove access to building, computer systems and other proprietary information

Following the termination, it is important for the manager to provide communication to the staff.  Many managers feel its best they not say anything, which leads to rumors and gossip.  Again, make it brief but send it out immediately.

Example:  As of today, Bob Jones is no longer working at ABS Collections.  We wish him the best in his future endeavors.  Should you have any questions regarding this message, please see your manager.

Using these guidelines and checklist should help you maintain your focus and composure going into a potentially emotional or volatile situation.  Feeling confident that the right decision was made to go forward with the termination, and showing respect to the individual, will help ease the pain of the task at hand.

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