11 things to remember about terminating employees

Being fired is number two on the list of worst messages to hear
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 10/03/2003


he three worst pieces of news a person can hear are about the death of a loved one, loss of a job or divorce. So, when you’re firing someone, you’re delivering the second worst message, says Emory Mulling, chair of Mulling Companies, an outplacement, executive coaching and retained search firm.

And with the bad news can come anger, grief—even a law suit, says Frank Heasley, president and CEO of MedZilla.com, on online job board.

“We’ve heard the horror stories from MedZilla clients about terminations gone bad. It’s important to plan for the inevitable termination and have best practices at hand. So, we asked the experts what their top suggestions would be.”

Tip 1:

Assume that everyone coming to work for you will someday have to be terminated, says Thomas K. Johnston, president, Worldbridge Partners, an executive search firm that specializes in disease management and pharmaceuticals. If you assume this, you’ll take the time have a plan in place for terminating employees. This planning might include some kind of employee-employer agreement, such as a non-compete or non-solicitation, to spell out what happens should that employee be terminated. These agreements, when they can be held up in court, help to ensure that employees who leave or are asked to leave do not hurt the business by taking away clients or information. Johnston notes HR professionals should make sure to update the agreements throughout employees' careers with a company so that they reflect their current status when they leave.

Tip 2:

Track performance in a standardized way, Johnston says. Every company should have a standard internal policy letting employees know how the company will track their performance and what their performance is expected to be. This might include information about how to treat other employees, including sexual harassment issues. It should also include the policy for dealing with those who do not meet the company’s performance requirements.

Tip 3:

Document, document, document. Therese A. Hoehne, director of human resources at Aurora University, Aurora Ill., writes that employers should be sure that termination is the appropriate action. Thorough documentation helps to make better decisions and comes in handy should an employee seek legal options. If the termination is for performance issues, an employer should ask if it has made an effort to counsel the employee, provided training and made the employee aware of the performance deficits. Of course, in the case of theft or other obvious violation of the employer-employee relationship no initial counselling is necessary, as long as the organization's policies have been disseminated, and they specify that major infractions such as theft are grounds for immediate termination. Johnston notes, “Termination should never come as a surprise to the employee.”

Tip 4:

Set up a formal meeting and make sure a witness is present (usually a fellow HR professional) to terminate the employee, Mulling says. Make the appointment for the next day. Don’t lie about the reason for the meeting. If the employee asks, Mulling suggests saying, “We will discuss some issues that involve our department. I need to get some information to you.” If the employee probes more, you can say, “Let’s wait until our meeting and I’ll discuss it with you then.”

Tip 5:

Prepare for the meeting by having details on why the person is being terminated. “You need to prepare this with your HR department so it is within the guidelines of the company,” Mulling says.

Tip 6:

Tell the employee upfront that he is being terminated. Be factual and brief. You don’t need to be apologetic, argue or lose control. If you go into detail, the employee will start to argue with you, Mulling says. “If you start arguing and [the employee] gets angry the termination session is a total failure.”

Tip 7:

Briefly explain severance pay, continued benefits, work completion and outplacement assistance. Don’t get into detail. They will not listen. Some are in shock.

Tip 8:

Tell the employee when and how to get her personal belongings. Mulling suggests employers allow employees to clean out their desks after hours or when other employees are not in the area.

Tip 9:

Provide details concerning project completion, personal effects and company property. Get the keys, security cards, computers, phones, credit cards, computer passwords.

Tip 10:

If the organization has an outplacement consultant, introduce the terminated employee to that person and leave the room. If not, end the meeting at that point. The whole meeting should last no more than four to five minutes, Mulling says.

Tip 11:

Stick to the mission at hand. Final don’ts are: Don’t give employees false hope and say you’ll help them find a job. Don’t say, “I’m sure you’re not going to have any trouble.” Don’t pass the buck and say this firing was not your idea. Don’t give platitudes and say, “You’ll feel better when you sleep on it.” Finally, don’t say, “I feel really bad about this.” Saying these things only makes the situation worse, Mulling says.

Source: MedZilla, Inc., a Marysville, Wash.-based online job board for employers in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science and health care. For more information visit www.medzilla.com.

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