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When It’s Time to Let Go: How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way

When It's Time to Let Go: How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way

Terminating an employee is usually at the top of a manager's "Things I Hate to Do" list. Many sexual assault programs have a "family" feel to them, and it's tough to come to a parting of the ways within a close-knit organization. Nonetheless, no one benefits when you continue to hold onto an employee who is not fulfilling job requirements, who is too burned-out to function, or whose toxic attitude is damaging the organization as a whole. When the time comes to say goodbye, there are some strategies that will be helpful to all concerned.

  • Be sure that the termination does not come as a surprise. If you have been following the guidelines of progressive discipline, the staff member should have been told clearly, "If you do not do this [or continue to do this], you are choosing to end your employment here." There should be a clear paper trail of disciplinary actions and consequences.
  • Even if you have given clear warning, be aware that the employee may not believe you will really follow through, and may seem surprised or shocked to learn that termination is happening.
  • Don't fire someone on a Friday. While it may seem like a good idea, it leaves the person stranded for the weekend, with no resources to call (such as the state unemployment office).
  • Give the news in a private area, but have someone with you. If you have an HR person, ask them to be there. If not, have another member of the management team present. It's best to use a conference room or some other neutral area so you can give the terminated individual some time to regroup after receiving the news.
  • If possible, have the person's final paycheck available and give it to them. By law, you must provide the final paycheck by the next regularly scheduled payday.
  • Have a checklist of all items that need to be taken care of, such as the return of office keys or equipment. If you are anxious about the conversation, make yourself a checklist of "talking points" you wish to cover.
  • If the person is getting health insurance from your agency, be sure to educate yourself about available COBRA benefits and provide that information.
  • Your tone during the termination meeting should be clear, decisive, and respectful. Don't express anger or demean the person in any way, but don't tiptoe around or apologize, either. State clearly that the person no longer works for the organization, and that you believe that this is best for all involved. Review the steps you have taken and briefly state why you are taking this action.
  • If the worker sends you a written request, you must provide the reason for the termination in writing within ten business days.
  • Stay focused and keep comments brief. Trying to make the person feel better by sugarcoating the termination may create a legal liability in the future, and the truth is that you can't remove all the pain from this difficult transition.
  • Let the person know who will be available to answer questions in the future (you or the HR manager, for example).
  • If the person becomes angry or accusatory, simply hear them out, without responding in kind or becoming defensive.
  • If you are worried that the worker might actually become violent during the termination conversation, respect your own fears and consult with others about how to do this safely.
  • Try to end the conversation on a positive note, wishing the person well in the future, if you feel you can honestly do so.

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Reviewed: September 1st, 2015