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Best practices for terminations and firings

A few months ago when the story of Radio Shack employees being fired by e-mail first surfaced, our CEO Jim Walter suggested best practices when someone is being terminated. We've noted that lately, a lot of people reach this blog searching on "terminations" or phrases related to "firing." We're not sure if this interest is a seasonal spike or simply a matter of perennial concern. Years ago, being terminated from a company was an unusual occurrence, a black mark on your resume. Today, it's the norm—it's hard to find a person who hasn't either been touched directly or been affected by a family member's termination. But even when terminations affect thousands at a time, each human drama is a very personal one, encompassing the terminated employee and that person's family and friends.

While the after effects of a termination for an employee can be devastating, at least the stigma to the reputation may not be as heavy a burden for the employee today as it was in the past. The same may not always hold true for the firing organization. Terminations used to primarily be hush-hush one-off affairs and now they are frequently mass events reverberating over the mainstream media and in every little nook and cranny of the Internet. While mass layoffs can be popular on Wall Street, on Main Street where public sentiment reigns, they aren't always received quite as well. The damage that a botched termination or layoff can do to a company's reputation can be incalculable. Not to mention the inevitable lawsuits, which are becoming so pervasive that many employers are nervous about terminating employees even in cases where firings are warranted.

Best practice tips from the experts
While never a happy event, Human Resource managers can play a pivotal role in keeping a bad situation from turning worse. To help this task, we offer some best practice words of advice from experts.

Robert Cenek of The Cenek Report has been around the HR block and back a few times, having worked in management at some very large corporations. This week on his blog, he suggests that "...if an employer is careful, forthright and professional with an employee during the separation process, the odds of an amicable separation are much higher. While the Golden Rule is a good starting point, there are other actions that employers should take to avoid the most common miscues in employee terminations."

And from the legal front, we recommend attorney Jill Pugh's list of 10 Things to Keep In Mind When You Have to Fire an Employee. Jill, who writes the blog Employee Handbook, suggests that you act decisively when you have reached the conclusion you must terminate an employee—too many employers put it off until a crisis forces them to act on impulse.

In addition to this excellent advice above, we reiterate our own best practice suggestions that we've gleaned from dealing with both HR managers who must do the firing and the terminated employees themselves:

  1. Schedule the termination meeting early in the day, and during the week; avoid terminating employees right before a holiday or a weekend.
  2. Have all paperwork ready. The final paycheck and all severance and benefit information need to be delivered at the termination meeting.
  3. The employee's manager and a representative from HR should attend so that you are able to cover all issues and questions.
  4. Be brief. Be compassionate. Allow the employee to vent his or her feelings, but do not engage in a negotiation or argument. Plan in advance what you are going to say and choose your words carefully.
  5. Extend every reasonable courtesy to the employee. Give the person an opportunity to say goodbye to coworkers. Should the employee become angry or abusive, don't get upset, simply escort the worker from the building.
  6. After all questions are answered and all paperwork completed, wish the person well and help them assemble their belongings and leave.

Some anger after a termination is to be expected, but if you take every step to treat people honestly, fairly, and with dignity, you can minimize the potential for litigation and limit damage to your organization's reputation as an employer.

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