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Ensuring Compliance When Conducting Terminations

Updated: May 23

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to terminating an employee. Terminations can occur due to several reasons including performance issues, violations of company policy, and reorganization of the workforce. Depending on the reason for the termination, one or all of the considerations listed below should be reviewed:

  • Make sure to review any employment contracts

  • Determine if severance would be appropriate. Generally, unless noted in an employment agreement, there is not a legal requirement to pay severance to a terminated employee. However, leadership may decide to voluntarily provide consideration which typically is in exchange for the execution of a release and waiver document. 

  • Most states recognize “employment at will” which means that the employee or employer can terminate employment at any time with or without reason, however keep in mind that there are still legal implications. For example, although states recognize “employee at will” it would not be appropriate to terminate an employee due to discrimination, retaliation for participating in an investigation or exercising their rights under FMLA.

  • Ensure that the reason for termination is clearly documented and detailed with important information relative to the decision.

  • Ensure that you are handling each situation consistent with your policies and how you have treated similar situations in the past.

  • Ensure that you have a record of all information such as prior evaluations, any leaves, investigations, written warnings and any other relevant documentation.

  • Ensure that the employee was provided with a reasonable opportunity to improve their performance with a documented performance improvement plan or coaching.

  • If an employee is being terminated due to performance issues, this should not be a surprise. An employee should be notified that they are not meeting expectations. Leadership typically should have several instances of coaching sessions that have taken place to address concerns.

  • If an employee is being terminated due to behavioral concerns, ensure that you have looped in your HR partner to conduct any investigation that may be needed.

  • Keep in mind that although you might have a policy that outlines progressive steps towards termination, there may be instances were you would want to skip steps in the process or move directly to termination which your HR partner can assist you with.

  • Ensure that there are notes or follow up regarding any feedback, coaching etc.

  • Always consult with your HR leader to understand potential risks.  

Once the termination is approved, the following should be reviewed:

  • Decide on the appropriate time to conduct the termination meeting. Preferably early in the work week, not during a holiday if possible.

  • Determine how the employee will return equipment and how access will be promptly disabled.

  • Determine a contingency plan to ensure work is reallocated. This plan should not be shared outside of leadership as no employee should be aware of the upcoming termination prior to it occurring. 

  • Your HR partner will ensure all necessary paperwork is finalized along with final paychecks and benefits. There are some states that require specific forms be provided to the employee when terminated.

Once the decision is made and the logistics have been finalized, it is time to conduct the termination meeting. 

  • Your HR partner should be present during the meeting.

  • Ensure that the meeting is conducted via video call.

  • Be clear and concise regarding the reason for termination. Often, the employee will attempt to share their feelings or offer a rebuttal. Although the decision has been made, recognize that this is often an emotional situation for the employee.  Keep the conversation limited and focused. Adding additional commentary can create exposure for the organization. 

  • Allow the HR partner to cover any information regarding final pay, outstanding expenses and benefits.

  • Ensure that any access to systems is disabled as soon as possible.

  • Ensure that any parties who need to know are alerted that the employee is no longer with the organization and provide a contact for future correspondence/ escalations (ex. Clients).

After the termination meeting is conducted the leadership team should communicate with the remaining employees. This should be communicated promptly and professionally in a short concise communication that limits rumors. Your HR partner will handle the processing in HRIS systems and processing final pay.

Most importantly, your HR partner can assist you with coming up with a plan to minimize exposure for your organization, ensure a smooth transition and keep the morale of your remaining employees intact.


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