ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Terminating Employees

It happens! Whether you must reduce your employee force or if you have an employee with a performance or attendance problem, at some point in time every agency owner will have to terminate an employee.

Termination will always be shocking - both to the employee and to the manager performing the termination. However, common sense combined with some simple guidelines can keep a termination on a professional, business level. Too many employee terminations result in emotional outbursts, accusations and counter-accusations and potential court actions.

If you are a large enough agency to have a systems and procedures manual, make sure that you have procedures in writing regarding your responsibilities and the employees responsibilities upon termination of employment. Follow the guidelines -- don't deviate. Deviation sets precedent against which future situations can compare themselves to further change your procedures.

First, if you feel that a termination is necessary for the health of your business, document the reasons for termination in your employee's personnel file. This both organizes your thought process and it provides evidence in file in the event that the employee brings action against you. If the employee made mistakes, put evidence of those mistakes in file. If the employee was absent or late an inordinate number of times, put copies of the time records in file. If you've received complaints, take notes (at the time of the complaint, if possible) and put the notes in file. Please make sure that the employee has been warned, given opportunities to solve the problems and updated on the continued performance problem. The termination is easier for all if it is preceded by sufficient communications that the employee is not surprised that the action is taking place.

Before the termination meeting pre-decide financial arrangements. A termination meeting should NEVER be a negotiations session. By the time this meeting occurs, your decision to terminate is fixed. You may provide severance if the termination is of no fault of the employee. That depends on your normal procedures. If you've fired people before, you already have procedures -- but they may not be written. Don't provide different severance conditions to employees who are similar in condition. Severance is not a common benefit for employees terminated for cause.

Before the meeting determine its timing. Set a specific time. Don't call the employee into your office during a break in the day. Most termination meetings are best held at the end of a day, but (for the mental sake of the employee) not at the end of a week. A Friday afternoon termination permits the employee to turn shock into emotional crisis as he/she lives through the weekend. However, a Monday afternoon termination can permit an employee to begin seeking new employment immediately, off-setting the emotional distress of being out of work with nothing to do.

Prior to your meeting decide when the employee will cease coming to work. In many cases it is appropriate for the employee to clean out the desk (with witnesses) and leave immediately. However in a reduction of force and for other types of terminations, the employee may need to complete a week, a pay period or a project before the termination begins. If the termination is immediate, have the employee's last check in hand (including any additional monies due for unused vacation time, etc.) at the meeting. Also, prepare a benefits statement informing the employee of his/her options regarding benefits previously provided by the employer. Also determine what additional work is due or the status of work in process on the employees desk.

Conducting a Termination Meeting:

1. Never conduct a termination meeting alone. A third person in the room acts as a witness. If you are terminating a female employee, it is best to have a female in the room as the third party.

2. Don't deliver a long preamble. Come to the point quickly and clearly and in language easily understandable. Very few employees are surprised by a termination. Most know (or should know) that they have had problems in their positions. The only thing that long explanations do is cause confusion. " Diane, I'm sorry to tell you that, due to your excessive tardiness, we're going to have to let you go," is a sufficient opening.

3. Listen to the employee, but be firm and undeniable. Once you have terminated an employee, you want the former employee to communicate with you, but you can not falter.

4. Lay out the terms of the termination including timing, final pay, benefits options, pension distribution, etc. This serves two purposes. It provides information needed by the former employee. It also reinforces that the termination is real - it's not another serious warning.

5. Lay out the next steps for the former employee.

6. Listen and answer any questions to the best of your ability. If questions arise for which you don't have an answer, say, "I don't know, but I'll find out and get the answer to you as quickly as possible."

7. Keep the meeting brief. Unless the former employee has a great deal to say, a fifteen minute meeting will be sufficient to cover the termination and the conditions. Remember, this is not a warning with redemption options. It is a termination!

A few DON'Ts:

DON'T debate. It serves no purpose.

DON'T be defensive

DON'T give advice. You will be tempted to do so, but avoid that temptation. It will sound condescending to the employee. You may want to remain friendly, but a terminated employee rarely feels friendly to his/her employee. Finally, you face potential litigation if you suggest the employee's recourse.

DON'T discuss other employees. Many dismissed employees will attempt to bring others into the process to cause side issues and doubt.

DON'T permit side issues. The two of you are there for one purpose and one purpose only.

DON'T bargain with the dismissed employee. Bargaining is negotiating.

ABOVE ALL, DON'T GET MAD. You must remain cold, professional and calm, regardless of what the employee says. If you get mad, you get into legal trouble. Regardless of the chances you have given the employee and the empathy you've shown in the past, the former employee may likely get upset when the final, unequivocal decision is made.

Take notes during the meeting documenting what happened. This is the final entry into your former employee's file.

Termination is a shocking event for both the terminated employee and the employer. It can't be avoided. But a professionally handled termination can take an inevitable event and make it short and understandable. Emotional release may be communicated by the employee. If so, listen empathetically. But don't become emotional as well. It serves no useful purpose during the termination meeting.