A Termination Checklist

Terminating an employee is never fun, even when done for the best reasons. I have had to terminate a number of people over the years. Some were genuinely surprised, even though they were given a lot of notice that it was a possibility, others were resigned. One was absolutely outraged and nearly became violent; another cried and pleaded. None of them were fun.

But it doesn’t have to be an awful experience, or a soulless one in which you become a ‘bad guy’. Terminations are necessary, for a lot of reasons, and I’m sure you have taken all the right steps so that it isn’t a surprise to the employee. (Right?)

Ask yourself:
Is this an appropriate situation to give severance? (If this is a termination ‘for cause’ you probably don’t want to reward the bad behavior that got the employee here. If it is an RIF, then giving a severance can make the news less difficult to hear.)
Will the employee be able to file for unemployment? (Will you contest it if s/he does?)
Is the employee in a ‘protected’ class? (Having protected status – gender, race, religion, age, national origin, or disability – doesn’t mean you can’t fire them, it’s just a trickier situation.)
Have you taken, and documented, appropriate steps to address the situation with the employee as well as outlined ways the employee could improve his or her behavior?

Then go through this checklist to make this transition as easy as possible for you and the employee:
1. Draw up a severance check.
2. Draw up a final paycheck, which needs to include all hours worked (estimate generously if you have to), and any normally paid out benefits (per company policy or practice). (Note: This can be done with the next normal payroll.)
3. Write a termination letter documenting the date, reason for termination, and that the final paycheck (and or severance) has been paid (or will be with the next payroll). If appropriate, the letter might discuss benefits and COBRA, as well as a reminder about non-competes or non-disclosure agreements.
4. Think about what you want to and what your goals are for the termination meeting. No matter what you choose to say, I strongly recommend that you say as little as possible. Do not be drawn into a discussion of why, or listen to excuses.  Be clear and straightforward, don’t sugarcoat it, or beat around the bush.
5. Do you think there is any possibility they may be angry or violent? If so, have a witness present, or someone standing nearby who could help you in a violent situation.
6. Hold the termination meeting in a private office.
7. Terminate as early in the day and workweek as possible. Pay them for the entire day (see #2, above).
8. If you have an IT person, alert them that you are about to have this meeting. They will have their own checklist to attend to.
9. Call the employee in. Say your piece. Hand them the letter (and check(s)).
10. You may want to accompany them to their desk to pack up; you may choose to let them do so unsupervised.  It depends on their position within the company, and the reasons for their termination.
11. Make sure they return any company property.
12. The last thing to do is to tell the company or the former employees coworkers. It is NEVER appropriate to say that the person was fired, or why they were let go. The statement “Judy’s last day was today. We wish her well in her future endeavors.” Or “Peter’s last day is today. Until we find a replacement, George and Jane will take over his duties.”

Below is a PDF of a comprehensive termination checklist from SHRM. It's designed for companies of all sizes, but might make a useful reference for your company.

IT has its own checklist in the case of a termination. A recent article by SHRM mentioned that as many as 60% of terminated employees retained sensitive company information and 25% retained access to their former employer’s computer systems.

That is frightening.

Your IT person can help stop this problem by documenting the assignment of all company-owned property to an employee.  This includes cell phones, laptops, tablets, portable drives and remote access codes for company routers or VPN access.  Then, in the case of a termination, IT can immediately disable an employee’s access, preventing them from altering data post-termination. (Do you really want them to send an email to the entire company when they’ve just been terminated?) IT can also collect the company-owned property, oversee data integrity, and transfer account login information to the appropriate person.  They can also make recommendations for how to handle the old account going forward, and set up forwarding when appropriate.

Terminating an employee is complicated, and upsetting. But it is also a necessary and inevitable part of doing business.

A Termination Checklist

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