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Employee termination best practices

Treating terminated employees with compassion and respect

 By Brian Kreissl

 As a manager, I count myself lucky in that I’ve never actually had to fire anyone.

While I am aware there’s a school of thought that says managers haven’t really proven themselves until they have had to terminate an employee, I wouldn’t necessarily hold it against a leader if she had never had to fire someone. Perhaps she never encountered any major performance issues with her team or had to deal with any type of organizational downsizing.

I also believe termination should generally be the last resort. It’s a much more important skill to be able to work with employees and manage and improve their performance through coaching, training and expectation setting.

Likewise, even if there aren't any major performance issues — or if there just isn’t a fit with the role in question — it’s much more challenging to come up with creative solutions to retain employees and make use of their talents elsewhere in the organization than it is to just fire them.

Acting with courage, confidence

However, managers do need to have the courage and confidence to make the decision to terminate when absolutely necessary — especially if the termination is for performance-related reasons. It is critical to act decisively and be able to make such a decision in a timely manner.

There’s no point in keeping an employee on if that person just isn’t a fit with the organization and there is little chance of that individual ever becoming a productive employee.

But once the decision has been made to terminate someone's employment — usually in consultation with senior management and HR — managers need to manage the process in a professional yet compassionate manner. Firing someone should never be a pleasant experience, but it should be done as painlessly as possible for all concerned.

Above all, it’s important to treat employees as human beings and remember that people have a lot invested in their jobs and careers. Work provides us with our livelihoods, a sense of fulfillment and camaraderie with our colleagues and a large part of our identities.

Naturally, the prospect of losing all of that is going to be a very unpleasant experience in the vast majority of cases. Even if someone is fully expecting to lose their job and is thoroughly miserable, hearing they’ve just been fired is almost always a negative feeling, even if it does sometimes come with a certain amount of relief.

Conducting the termination meeting

There are many steps involved in terminating an employee, but one of the most important is the actual termination meeting itself. The following are some suggestions on conducting a termination meeting effectively and in a dignified manner:

  • Conduct the meeting face to face in a private place where you aren’t likely to be interrupted.
  • Try to have the meeting at the end of the day after most employees have gone home. Avoid terminating employees during the Holidays, immediately on their return from leave or when they are experiencing personal or emotional trauma.
  • Obtain legal and/or HR advice in advance, particularly where just cause is alleged.
  • Have a termination letter/release prepared in advance and signed by the employee's manager or director. However, avoid simply reading the letter to the employee.
  • Ensure the individual’s manager is the person who actually breaks the news to the employee. While HR should be there to assist and provide details regarding severance and support being provided to the employee, the manager should do most of the talking.
  • While it is often appropriate to show some level of compassion, it is important not to be too emotional or display any anger.
  • Ensure there is no doubt that the person’s employment has been terminated through the use of language that is clear and unequivocal. Don’t negotiate with the employee or give any indication your decision isn’t final. However, it is important to tell the employee if there is any reasonable chance of redeployment.
  • Thank the person for his efforts and express regrets about the termination (provided the person isn’t being terminated for cause).
  • Consider having an outplacement counselor waiting in another room to speak with the employee immediately after the termination meeting.
  • Allow the employee to pack his things and leave in a dignified manner. Consider allowing him to return to collect his personal belongings later (unless he is being terminated for cause and is likely to be a security risk).

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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  • RE: Re: End of Day? Not
    Friday, April 4, 2014 10:54:00 AM by Brian Kreissl
    I think you are being a little harsh, but you are entitled to your opinion.

    While I may not have technically fired anyone, I have participated in "termination" meetings where we actually managed to redeploy the people concerned. And I've been a people manager for over seven years, so my knowledge of these types of issues isn't entirely theoretical (I am also a trained HR professional with my CHRP and a masters degree in employment law).

    Any of the organizations I have worked for in the past have conducted terminations at the end of the day. Your experience may have been different - and that's all right. As mentioned, you are entitled to your opinion and are entitled to voice them. In many cases these things are subject to interpretation and debate.
  • RE: End of Day? Not
    Friday, April 4, 2014 10:06:00 AM by Brian Kreissl
    I understand your perspective, but respectfully have to disagree.

    To me it is far better to do the actual termination at the end of the day to save the employee the embarrassment of having to collect their things and walk past their co-workers on the way out the door. It is quite possible a terminated employee would be crying and may cause a scene (and could also say disparaging things about the company and/or the manager).

    It isn't about getting an extra day's work out of employees, but to spare them embarassment and avoid disrupting the workplace as much as possible. However, I recognize there are no hard and fast rules around some of these things, and there are different opinions on when it is best to conduct a termination (people even disagree on what day of the week is best).