May 1, 2013

In The Art of War, ancient military strategist Sun Tzu teaches that opportunities multiply as they are seized. Far too often, managers tasked with terminating an employee fail to view the termination meeting as an opportunity to protect the company, prevent future claims, and reduce the risk that what is said during the meeting will spill into a future dispute. Here are five factors that may help transform a termination meeting into valuable opportunities for the company:

1. Who? Have the right people present.

There should be at least two company representatives present at any meeting where an employee is being terminated: (1) the employee’s manager; and (2) a human resources representative. This serves a couple of purposes. First, there will be at least two company witnesses to anything that is said or done during the meeting. Also, each person will have his or her own respective role at the meeting.

If the company is worried about the employee’s reaction to being terminated, the company should also consider whether it makes sense to have a security representative present at the meeting, or at least on standby nearby. An outplacement representative could also be present if the company will be paying for outplacement services for the terminated employee.

2. What? Everybody has a role.

The manager should communicate the termination decision to the employee, as well as the basis for the decision if one is necessary. The human resources representative should then communicate everything else to the employee, including the logistics of the termination and what the employee can do to obtain answers to any other questions.

Before the termination meeting, the manager and the human resources representative should make sure they are on the same page, so they communicate the same message effectively to the employee.

3. Where? Somewhere the employee will feel comfortable.

The more unpleasant an employee’s termination meeting, the greater the likelihood the employee will later file a claim against the company. Therefore, hold the termination meeting in person and at a place where the employee will feel most comfortable. Meeting in the employee’s own office may be a better choice than meeting in the manager’s office. Avoid holding a termination meeting in a conference room open to others, or by video conference, unless absolutely necessary.

4. When? Never at the beginning of the week.

Human resource consulting firms generally recommend terminating employees in the middle of the week. Friday would be the next best time to hold a termination meeting, and Friday may be preferable for those situations when an employee termination would be disruptive to the office or work environment. Also, if an employee will have to be escorted from the building, Friday may be the best time to terminate the employee. Never terminate an employee on Monday, or right before a holiday.

The end of the day is the best time to terminate an employee. Avoid terminating an employee in the morning.

5. How? Keep it short and sincere.

The most effective termination meetings are relatively short and demonstrate compassion towards the employee. Remember, these are life-changing events for employees, and the employee will be able to sense whether those present at the termination meeting are sincere in their discussions with the employee. The more time the company takes to show compassion during the termination meeting, the less likely the employee may be to file subsequent claims against the company.

Attorneys at Mize, Minces & Clark regularly consult with employers regarding employee discipline and termination, and we would be happy to advise you on steps to hold an effective termination meeting. If it happens at work, we can help.

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