The termination of an employee is rarely an easy thing, but some of the dislocation and emotional upheaval can be avoided if preparations are made beforehand. A civilized termination also makes it less likely that any legal claim will be made by the former employee.
The procedure for employee termination should be designed, as far as possible, to protect the dignity of the employee being terminated and to provide for the safety of coworkers, visitors, and property. During the termination, it’s a good idea to have the employee’s supervisor or another employee present.
A business owner can use this checklist to determine if he or she has done as much as possible to protect the company from being sued:
- Have you treated the employee the same way you treated others in the same circumstances? Treating employees differently for the same behavior is the most common cause of discrimination and unlawful termination claims.
- Have you documented verbal and written warnings?
- Has someone else, preferably someone in the human resources department (if there is one), reviewed the employee file to verify the propriety of dismissal?
- Do you plan to have a witness present at the termination meeting? (Yes!) Has a termination letter been prepared? (See separate list below.)
- Is there any company property that should be given back, such as a cell phone, laptop, tools, books, etc.
- Are all keys, cardkeys, and similar access devices being surrendered?
The owner should prepare a list like this before the need to terminate an employee comes up, so that it is done without being under pressure.
A termination letter should be prepared for the employee’s signature, with these guidelines in mind:
- Keep it short and sweet. Do not recite a reason for termination, merely state the last date of employment
- Inform the employee of his/her COBRA rights, if any
- Give the employee the NYS Unemployment Insurance benefits claim form
- Include accrued vacation time in last paycheck according to policy
- If the employee has signed a non-compete or a non-disclosure agreement, remind him or her that she is bound by that agreement, and give them a copy
If the employee asks for a copy of the letter, give it to him after it’s been signed. If the employee refuses to sign it (which will happen sooner or later), have the witness write near the bottom “Employee declined to sign” and put his (the witness’s) initials or signature.
Any company, no matter how well run, no matter how big or small, has to fire an employee eventually. It is frequently not pleasant but the unpleasantness can be minimized if the right steps are taken. In fact, many of those steps must be taken long before the employee is terminated, but that’s a topic for a different day.