By: Kayla Bell on December 13th, 2013

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3 Factors to Consider During the Employee Separation Process

Total Rewards | Employee Relations

As you manage an employee through the progressive discipline process, your ultimate goal is focused around offering the employee as many opportunities as possible to improve performance in order for him or her to have a successful career at your organization.  Performance feedback conversations, written warnings, and performance improvement plans are some of the tools used to give the employee an opportunity to improve and the resources to achieve a successful result and ultimately meet the expectations of the organization.  Unfortunately, there may come a time in your career where your efforts to manage performance do not result in the desired outcome and you find yourself asking “now what?”

If an employee’s performance is not improving, despite your attempts to guide them, it may be time to consider termination.   If a manager determines to terminate an employee for performance, it is important to take a look back at the efforts made to provide the employee with an opportunity to correct poor performance.  A few things to consider are:

1. Have I been clear with the employee of why his/her performance in unacceptable?

2. Have I explained what I, as his/her manager, expect of the employee from a performance perspective?


3. Have I provided the employee with the resources, tools, and length of time necessary to improve performance?


Before taking the action to terminate, in an effort to mitigate risk in the case of employment litigation, we recommend ensuring that all efforts of the organization to allow the employee the opportunity to improve have been documented. You know the old saying; if it is not written down, it did not happen.  Document, document, document!

If an employee has been managed through the progressive discipline process, the decision to terminate would not come as a surprise to the employee; that being said, it doesn’t necessarily make it an easy conversation for a manager to have.   Consider the following guidelines for termination discussions related to performance:

1. Plan Ahead

We suggest that you spend some time and prepare how the termination discussion will go with the assistance of your Human Resources representative.  We recommend that the manager deliver the news of termination to the employee, as he/she was likely the person managing the employee through the progressive discipline process up to this point with a member of the HR team.  Consider role playing the conversation with your Human Resources representative, and be open to his/her feedback.

You will also want to pre-determine the date, time, and location of the termination meeting.  Other questions to consider include completion of a Separation Checklist to include the employee’s network access including email and cell phone. Are there any outstanding projects that the employee is working on? How will this termination impact the rest of the team? For best practices for avoiding problems during an employee termination meeting, click here.


2. Have a Witness

In an effort to reduce the risk of employment litigation, it is recommended that a termination meeting occur with a third party.  Typically, the witness to the termination discussion is a representative of the Human Resources team.  If an HR representative is not available, determine who an appropriate witness to the discussion may be.


3. Keep it Brief

Typically, a termination meeting will last between 20 and 25 minutes.  Ideally, the manager will deliver the termination message to the employee and pause to allow them to digest the news.  Managers are encouraged to inform the employee of the cause of the termination without going too far into detail about past performance concerns; keep in mind that those conversations have already occurred and at this point the employee is likely well aware of his/her poor performance. The reaction to this news varies from person to person; some employees say very little while others may become defensive and not understand.  If an employee begins to ask questions such as “why?” and “what about Jane Doe; she’s terrible at her job!” keep the conversation focused.  You can inform the employee that this conversation is about his/her performance and not about other employee’s performance.  The manager should continue to confirm that the decision is the final decision of your organization.


Once the manager has delivered the news, if your HR representative is also present, we recommend that the manager then exit the meeting and the HR representative will review what the employee exit will look like at that point, to include termination of benefits, last paycheck, etc.


Terminating an employee is not an easy task, and as HR Professionals, we at Helios find that it never gets easier.  Managers should feel confident in their decision to end an employment arrangement if they have appropriately exhausted all means of offering an employee the opportunity to improve.  As they say, when one door closes another door opens – and we often find this to be a better door for both the organization and the exiting employee.  Following the above guidelines will help you drive the termination conversation and keep it on track to a successful completion.