The Pastor’s Study
QUESTION: What are the advisable steps to include when terminating an employee?
ANSWER: Generally, once a decision to terminate an employee has been made for a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason, and as long as any prior disciplinary or improvement measures taken were consistent with practices and policy, the organization is well advised to schedule a meeting that includes the employee, the employee’s supervisor, and either a human resources manager or the supervisor’s manager (and an attorney, if necessary, because of egregious circumstances). Once the meeting begins, the employer should explain to the employee the reason for the employment termination in a concise way that preserves the employee’s dignity. Often, there will be an extensive list of cumulative problems leading up to the termination. While it is not necessary to expound on each item in such a discussion, it is important to accurately generalize the issues. That way, if the employee contests the termination, he or she does not assert that certain reasons are responsible for the termination that were never, in fact, expressed. It is important during the process that the employer not be drawn into an argument.
If the organization utilizes separation agreements, where an amount of severance is paid in exchange for the execution of a full release, that subject needs to be discussed with the employee during the meeting. In such cases, the employee is usually deemed to have resigned instead of terminated. Where there is no animosity between the parties, employers sometimes allow employees to opt to resign, which may be of assistance to the employee when seeking subsequent employment. This meeting is also the time to collect all passwords and property, or determine the location of these items, and to allow the employee a choice about when to remove personal belongings from the work area. Finally, the organization must address the following issues: 1. unused benefits, such as accrued time off; 2. expense reimbursements or advances to the employee; 3. whether the employee desires to give written permission for reference checking; and 4. the provision of a letter from the human resources department that outlines the status of his or her benefits on termination, including life insurance, health coverage, retirement and expense account plans, and the continuation thereof under COBRA.