Employee terminations generate a lot of questions asked of me every month. Fears of discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation weigh so heavily on landscapers that I have compiled some thoughts on what to consider before terminating an employee. This article outlines the fundamental process for conducting an employee termination fairly, correctly and consistently.
Meeting preparation. Prior to the termination meeting, make sure the facts (e.g., details, witnesses, policies) of the disciplinary investigation have been collected, reviewed and interpreted objectively.
Beyond that premise, employee terminations should never be conducted one-on-one.
Always have another person (e.g., human resources, account manager, branch manager) present as a witness should legal action occur. The person conducting the meeting must have all administrative documents (e.g., termination form, final paycheck, termination checklist) well organized to keep the meeting efficient. Ideally, the entire termination meeting should last less than 20 minutes.
The Decision. The meeting should be conducted in a secluded area, away from other employees or distractions.
Upon employee arrival, the person conducting the meeting must explain the precise purpose of the session, remain calm and confident and show appropriate eye contact to the employee. In general, the less this person says, the better the result will be.
Terminations typically occur for one of two reasons: A chronic performance problem or a major policy violation.
If the termination is due to a chronic performance problem, the following fundamental script should be used as an outline to follow:
• “As you know, you and I have had several meetings over the past several weeks/months to discuss your performance-related issues (e.g., interpersonal skills, accuracy of work, not wearing PPE). Despite that documented coaching, your performance has not improved to the required level of your position and is having an impact on company operations. Due to that fact, today will be your last day of employment with this company.”
If the termination is due to a major policy violation, the following fundamental script should be used as an outline:
• “An investigation has provided us with evidence that you violated company policy (e.g., sexual harassment, alcohol use, timecard fraud) on (specify date). As stated in the employee handbook that you signed on (specify date), that policy violation has the consequence of employee termination. Due to that fact, today will be your last day of employment with this company.”
Employee Response. Once the decision has been conveyed, the person conducting the meeting and the witness should be prepared for any possible response from the employee (e.g., swearing, verbal attack, crying).
Regardless of the response, let the employee vent, express shock, or ask questions, all the while remaining calm no matter what the employee says. While stressful to the person conducting the meeting, this decision is potentially catastrophic for the employee (e.g., lack of income, pride, future employment). The person conducting the meeting must not respond emotionally to the employee or be led onto a tangential topic.
Stay focused only on the meeting purpose. When in doubt, the person conducting the meeting must remain quiet. When challenged he/she should simply restate the evidence and the decision. Any misstatement will be documented by the employee, which could lead to a wrongful termination claim.
Administrative Process. After the responses have occurred, the person conducting the meeting must introduce the administrative process: (a) request all company materials from the employee (e.g., keys, cell phone, files, tools); (b) present relevant documents (e.g., paychecks, COBRA, 401(k) information) to the employee and (c) have the employee sign a termination form acknowledging administrative details.
Regardless of whether the terminated employee consents, refuses or continues to respond (e.g., explanation, victimization, sarcasm), the person conducting the meeting must maintain poise at all times.
Exit. As the meeting approaches closure, the person conducting the meeting should state “I wish you the best as you continue in your career.” The person conducting the meeting must then escort the employee to retrieve any personal belongings or to the exit. Under no circumstances should the terminated employee be left unattended.
Once the terminated employee has left the premises, the person conducting the meeting and the witness should debrief the event, documenting any noteworthy comments, responses, and/or actions. Finally, all documentation should be filed in the employee’s personnel folder.
Summary. Employee terminations are difficult and risky events. While no process is perfect, this outline will improve the company’s procedural efficiency, legal protection and professional consistency.
Steve Cesare is an industrial psychologist with the Harvest Group, a landscape consulting group. Send your HR questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.