Before terminating an employee, a manager must carefully prepare to prevent misunderstandings and accusations of illegality. Handling the actual firing session must be done with care. How you treat the person could determine if he or she feels wronged enough to file a lawsuit — even if it has no merit.

Be prepared to answer any questions the employee might have about the termination.

Typical questions include:

  • When will I receive my last paycheck?
  • Will I be paid for unused PTO time?
  • Am I eligible for unemployment insurance?
  • Can I continue my health insurance?

The Final Countdown

Preparing for a termination session should include these common-sense do’s:

  • DO thoroughly document employee issues and warnings leading up to the termination.
  • DO make sure your documentation is in order before the meeting. Pull together performance appraisals, written warnings and all pertinent correspondence with the employee.
  • DO review the employee’s file and any documentation from previous disciplinary discussions.
  • DO prepare a termination document. The document should include the last day of employment and provide information about final pay, benefits, etc. Have the employee sign the document and give him or her a copy. Keep a copy in the personnel file.
  • DO make a list of all company belongings that should be returned upon termination, such as ID badges and laptops.
  • DO have the termination meeting in a private location — such as your office — where you won’t be interrupted or observed by others.
  • DO be straightforward with the person during the meeting. Be honest and clear about the reason for discharge.
  • DO have a witness present. Make sure you brief the individual on the situation and have him or her sign and acknowledge documents if the employee refuses.
  • DO tell the employee how long he or she has to collect personal belongings and leave the premises. Offer to mail the employee any personal items.
  • DO have someone accompany the employee when packing personal belongings to ensure company property isn’t taken.
  • DO change security passwords, computer access logins and entry codes if necessary.

Avoid these missteps:

  • DON’T drag out the meeting. Keep it as short as possible. This is not the time to engage in detailed discussions of performance issues or who’s to blame.
  • DON’T argue with an employee to justify a termination decision. Be firm, polite and professional. Convey the message and end the conversation.
  • DON’T let the employee push you into losing your temper or getting too emotional.
  • DON’T fire the employee in the middle of the day. Wait until later when fewer people are around to create less of a stir and avoid unnecessary questions.
  • DON’T talk about the termination with other employees. This action is between you and the fired employee. If employees ask questions, just tell them the individual is no longer employed at the company.
Consider a separation agreement or release. A separation agreement is a legally binding agreement in which the departing employee agrees to release any legal claims against an employer. In return, the company promises some form of “consideration.” It could be money (such as severance pay), a few extra months of health insurance or keeping a company-provided item such as a laptop.

Don’t Second Guess Yourself

It’s stressful having to let an employee go. But keep in mind that it is your right to fire underperforming or policy-violating workers as long as you have:

  1. Documented their performance and can show the action is justified
  2. Given employees chances to improve
  3. Treated other employees the same in similar situations

Knowing you are “in the right” will make the task easier.

Key takeaways:
  • Managers should carefully prepare for termination meetings.
  • Treat the departing employee with respect and dignity.
  • Keep the termination meeting brief, and conduct it in private with a witness present.
  • Be prepared to answer any questions the employee may have.