Question:

I have an at-will employee that I need to terminate, but I’m not sure how to go about doing it. That may sound odd, but I am a new business owner and I’ve never had to deal with this situation before. My apprehension has caused me to put off the termination, but I know that it needs to be done. Is there anything I need to know before I fire this person?

Answer:

Even though it can be difficult, terminating employees is unfortunately simply part of doing business. Your apprehension is understandable, given the sometimes unpredictable circumstances surrounding a termination. These can include disgruntled employees, potential lawsuits, and a negative effect on morale and/or on your business in general. In order to avoid these particular outcomes, it is therefore important to follow certain guidelines when terminating someone from your employment.

The first step in the termination process is arranging a time to talk with the employee in person. Even if you are apprehensive about the termination you should move forward once the decision to terminate has been made. The employee’s manager will generally conduct the termination, though you may serve in this capacity as the owner of your business, depending on its size.

Typically the termination meeting will only include you and the employee, though you may wish to have another person present if you are concerned that the employee may become emotional or angry. If you are concerned about the potential for violence you should alert security (if you have it) and your managerial staff before the termination takes place.

The time and place for the termination are also important. For instance, you should speak to the employee someplace neutral, such as a conference room, which will afford you plenty of privacy. Some experts recommend that you try to terminate an employee in the middle of the week, rather than on a Friday, based on the theory that employees who are terminated on Friday may become angry over the weekend because there is no one for them to talk to about the termination. Terminating someone midweek allows that person to immediately begin looking for a new job, and to contact you or your Human Resources department with any questions.

The actual meeting with your employee should be brief and to the point, and should only last long enough to communicate the reason for your decision. Although an at-will employee can be fired without giving a reason, it is best to explain the reasons so that the employee understands why he/she is being let go. You should avoid over-justifying your decision—instead, simply be firm and direct, and explain that your decision is final. Remain calm and professional during the meeting, and attempt to preserve the terminated employee’s dignity by being respectful and honest with him/her.

From an administrative standpoint, there are some things you must do. The employee’s final paycheck, including any unused vacation or PTO, should be ready for him/her at the time of the termination, and the employee should sign a statement acknowledging receipt of his/her final pay. If applicable, you should also collect any keys, badges, uniforms, cell phones, pagers, or other company property from the employee, including his/her copy of the employee handbook. You will also need to provide the employee with several forms at the time of termination. These can include information on COBRA rights for continuation of group health care, a Health Insurance Premium Payment (HIPP) Notice, a certificate of group health plan coverage, a notice regarding the change in the employment relationship, and information regarding state Unemployment Insurance programs.

After the termination meeting, you should immediately inform other employees that the terminated employee is leaving the company so that you can prevent rumors and deal with any morale issues. You should attempt to set a positive tone with your remaining employees, and should only provide a simple, neutral explanation for the termination.

As you know, terminating an employee presents a challenging task. However, preparing for the process will ensure that things so as smoothly as possible, and that the termination will be handled effectively and properly.
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