The Manager's Guide for Termination
by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLab®

Outplacement on Keyoard
Use this checklist to plan your actions the next time you face an employee termination:

Have your ducks in a row.

  1. Identify the terminating manager and the human resources person who will serve as witness and explain benefits and severance package.
  2. If you're providing outplacement, give the outplacement consultants as much notice as possible. Two weeks advance notice is not too much. When terminations go bad, it is usually because of poor planning. Bad terminations can result in wrongful termination lawsuits or workplace violence incidents. General rule of thumb: Ask yourself, "How would I like to be treated in a similar situation?"
  3. Whenever possible, conduct the termination early in the week, say Monday or Tuesday. Early morning is best, but late afternoon is okay too. Avoid Friday terminations because candidates have less access to friends and support resources.
  4. Choose a termination date far enough in advance that you can search for lateral transfers to other departments or business units, or notify outplacement consultants, complete paperwork, and cut required checks.
  5. Make sure the severance paperwork is accurate. Nothing angers an ex-employee more than ambiguous, inaccurate severance documents. Issues like health insurance and severance pay are critical to many families' survival.
  6. Have cardboard boxes for personal belongings nearby.
  7. If the job is high-security, say accounting or information systems, disable passwords or computer access while the termination meeting is in progress—never before.

Look for "Red Flags."
Review each candidate's personnel file, and consult your own knowledge of individuals to uncover any personal issues that could complicate the separation. For example:

  • Does the person have any serious health problems?
  • Have they recently bought a new home or made any large purchases?
  • Is their spouse, partner, or significant-other out of work?
  • Have they ever threatened or behaved violently?
  • Have they mentioned lawyers or threatened litigation?
  • Do you notice anything else unusual that could be a concern?

The Termination Meeting
A short meeting is best. It's hard to make the departing employee feel better by talking more. In fact, like quicksand, the termination meeting may get worse as it gets longer. A five-minute session is standard. Explain the termination in business terms. For example: merger, duplication of skills, job elimination, that sort of thing. Avoid personal performance issues, unless the termination is purely based upon performance. There's no advantage to be gained by taking one last shot at a poor performer on the way out the door.

What if the candidate asks, "Why me?"
Return to the business reasons for the decision--duplication of skills, etc-- and shy away from personal attacks. If the candidate presses you for specifics, simply say, "We can make an appointment to discuss this later, but my purpose today is simply to communicate the decision, to explain your severance benefits, and to introduce you to the consultant who is here to help you find a new job."

Who should be in the meeting?
The manager explaining the termination (the candidate's boss), and the human resources manager who will (1) serve as a witness, and (2) explain the benefits and severance package. Except in extreme cases, the outplacement consultant should not sit in on the termination meeting. This detracts from their being seen as "the good guys."

Terminating One Person

  1. Find a suitable room for the discussion.
  2. Invite the candidate into the room with the line manager and the human resources manager.
  3. Have the line manager explain the decision.
  4. Let the human resources manager pass out severance letter and explain all benefits, collects keys, access cards, and security items.
  5. Bring the outplacement consultant into the room and make introductions.
  6. Leave the outplacement candidate and the consultant alone to talk. (Their meeting will typically last 15 minutes to an hour.)

Important: It's far easier to bring the outplacement consultant into the room where the termination was conducted than to try to move the candidate to a new room, because newly-terminated employees can be angry and upset.

Terminating Several People on the Same Day
Use the same process as above, and schedule termination meetings 30 minutes to an hour apart to allow the consultant to meet with each candidate individually. Avoid group terminations if at all possible.

What if the candidate refuses to see the outplacement consultant?
Say, "I know you don't want to meet the consultant now, but please just meet him or her long enough to get their card." A good consultant will take it from there.

What about personal belongings?
Give the candidate a choice: "Do you want to get your personal things now, or would you prefer to come back after hours when you'd have more privacy? If you want to come back later, you may call Mary Smith (name of manager) for access to your office." In either case, a manager or administrator usually stands by to assist and to be sure nothing important is taken.

No Surprises
Be honest with people. If an employee asks about their future, and you know their job could be cut, don't tell them "Your job is secure. You have nothing to worry about," or words to that effect. Tell the truth: "There is some duplication, and your job might be affected." The worst case in outplacement is total surprise. Don't create unnecessary concern by spreading uncertainty, but don't misrepresent the truth, either.

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