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Avoiding Problems during an Employee Termination Meeting

Posted on December 6, 2013
Amy DozierWritten by Amy Dozier | Email author

I recently had the unfortunate task of assisting a client with terminating an employee.  Once the decision was made, we had to deliver the message to the employee as soon as possible.  The manager had conducted separation meetings previously, but asked me for some guidance.

Tips to Consider when Conducting a Separation Meeting:

  • The meeting should be short:  10-15 minutes maximum.
  • Do not dance around the issue. Explain the purpose of the meeting within the first minute.
  • The decision has already been made.  There is no need to go through a thorough explanation of why this is happening.
  • Do not say “I don’t want to do this, but…” because it is too close to dealing with your own feelings and not about what the employee is feeling.
  • Do not apologize – it makes it sound like you are not confident in the company’s decision.
  • If the employee tries criticizing the customer, the company, or management, let him vent, but don’t let the meeting get out of control.
  • Do not get defensive or argue back.
  • Acknowledge what is being said but do not agree or disagree.
  • Listen for remarks indicating discrimination claims or other legal threats.
  • Immediately transition into the close out process to help the person to move forward.

I also recommend preparing some talking points ahead of time so you know what you are going to say and to help you stay you on track.  I cannot tell you how many times I have gone through these tips with managers in the past and when we get into the meeting, they do everything we talked about not doing.  It’s not because they were not paying attention or didn’t care; separation meetings are just so uncomfortable and people get so nervous that they just forget everything we talked about ahead of time.  (As a side note, the manager in this particular situation did a great job!  He did exactly what we talked about.)

How to Prepare for a Separation Meeting

What to Prepare before a Separation Meeting:

  • Location: Reserve a conference room so you are on neutral ground.
  • Witness: Although not required, I recommend having a witness attend the separation meeting, especially if you think the employee is going to get argumentative and defensive.  If Human Resources is not available, have another manager level employee attend the meeting with you.
  • Security: Everyone reacts differently when they hear that today is going to be their last day with the company.  If you have any fear of the individual reacting physically, call security or local law enforcement to stand by.  You may not need them, but it’s better to be safe!  Also, situate yourself in the room so you are closest to the door in case something does happen you can escape.  This is another reason to have a conference room so you are not stuck in a corner behind your desk.
  • Time sheets: If the employee has to complete a time sheet, make sure you have a method to get that done.  It may mean you have a laptop with you that he can use to complete his time sheet at the end of the meeting.
  • Final Pay: Know the state regulations on issuing final paychecks.  Several states require you issue the final paycheck earlier than the next payroll run.
  • Benefits: Know what will happen to the employee’s benefits and how that information will be communicated to him.  Let him know that he will receive COBRA information in the mail.
  • IT: Make sure IT is on standby just before the separation meeting occurs so they can disable the employee’s accounts.
  • Passwords: Ask the employee for any passwords to company systems or spreadsheets.
  • Company Assets: Know what company issued equipment the employee has in his possession, such as: Laptop, charge cord, and laptop case; Cell phone and charge cord; Keys; Badges; Parking passes; Company credit card

If the employee doesn’t have it all with him that day, arrange a way to collect it.  You can have him drop it off at the office or you can offer to pay for it to be shipped.  I do not normally recommend meeting the employee somewhere for an exchange because you just don’t know how this change has affected him and what he might do.  Note that you cannot withhold pay in exchange for the return of company assets.

  • Escort: The most uncomfortable part about terminating an employee may be escorting them to their desk to collect their personal things, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid the escort.  It is important that someone stays with them until they walk out the door to ensure they do not take any company property or propriety information. You also do not want them bad mouthing the company to other employees as they walk through the halls.
  • Personal Belongings: Think about how much personal stuff the employee has and make sure you have enough boxes to help him pack up his belongings.  If he has a lot of personal belongings, you may want to offer to pack it up for him and ship it.
  • Communicating to the Organization: Prepare to communicate the change to the organization.  Let everyone know that the employee is no longer with the company but details of why should not be shared.  Communicate with those directly impacted about how that individual’s work will be redistributed and what the long term plan is going to be.
  • Document, Document, Document: Document what was said during the separation meeting just in case the employee makes any sort of claim later and send it to Human Resources to keep on file.

Whether you are preparing to conduct your first or one hundredth separation meeting, I am sure you are feeling very uneasy.  I assure you that feeling is very normal and I am sorry to say that letting someone know that they no longer have a job never gets easier.  Just remember, the decision was not personal; it was business.  At Helios, we see it as our jobs to help you prepare ahead of time to help ensure it goes as smoothly as a separation meeting can possibly go.

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