As HR professionals, we deal with many aspects of how an organization and its employees’ function, the least pleasant of which is employee termination.
Employment termination is a sensitive matter, and HR plays a big role in ensuring that fired employees are treated with respect and dignity. HR is like the ferryman, guiding the terminated employee through a transition. In many cases, the employee’s direct manager will handle the actual firing, since he or she can better explain the reasons behind the termination. HR should always be there, however, to help oversee and guide the conversation, making sure the manager stays on script and the employee has all the information he or she needs.
In other cases, HR must handle the termination directly. If the employment termination is due to misconduct, harassment or another more sensitive reason, it is probably best for HR to deal with the employee who will be fired. Another reason to involve HR first is if the employee’s manager is somehow involved in the reason for the termination. In these cases, the manager’s involvement could present a conflict of interest.
Since HR should always be involved in employee terminations, here are 6 things every HR professional should know:
Although most companies are operating under at-will laws, they also operate under federal, state and local laws that prevent employers from firing employees based on certain factors. These include race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, pregnancy, disability, national origin, and sexual orientation.
Knowing the laws that protect employees from discrimination and undue termination is a crucial first step before beginning the process to fire an employee who is a member of a protected class. Failure to do so can lead to wrongful termination lawsuits brought against your company. You can read more in this guide on discrimination in the workplace published by FitSmallBusiness.
Presumably, you’re firing the employee due to poor performance, a failure to meet goals, or even misconduct. Having documentation that proves the reason not only helps when it comes to any legal inquiries, but it also provides an unarguable case for termination.
Conduct routine performance reviews and discuss any performance issues with employees, giving them the chance to improve. If they don’t improve and must, therefore, be fired, you now have a record that their performance was an issue.
Other items to cover are an employee’s right to stay on the company’s health insurance under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act). HR must let the employee know that he or she and any dependents will continue to qualify for coverage, usually for a period of 30 days from termination.
HR also plays a role in explaining a severance package, if one is being offered to the terminated employee. You should clearly explain what the severance package contains (such as how many months the employee will receive a paid salary, etc.) and how accepting a severance package means they agree not to sue the company. Severance agreements and release of claims offer employers peace of mind at a price, in case there’s a chance the employee might bring forth a wrongful termination lawsuit.
The better prepared the manager who does the firing is, the better the process is likely to go. Take time to do trainings with all the company managers to prepare them for the eventuality of having to fire someone.
Terminating an employee is never easy. It’s a process that requires careful attention and a certain level of finesse. Is there anything else every HR professional should know about employee termination?