Making the decision to terminate an employee is never easy. Whether it’s for performance-related issues or conduct issues, the employee termination process can be complicated, involved and may even invoke feelings of anger or frustration for the affected employee.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure that you’re prepared in advance, are staying legally compliant and staying compassionate to the employee. Having a checklist to keep track of all the steps in the termination process can help you stay organized and ensure that nothing is missed in the process. But it can also help free up time for HR to focus on next steps for the business and the employee.
Here’s a step-by-step employee termination checklist to ensure that the termination process goes as smoothly as possible.
Review company policies
Before doing anything else, the first step should be ensuring that you’re in compliance with company policies as well as federal and state laws.
You may want to refer to an employee handbook or other resource that explains valid reasons for employee termination. It’s important to ensure that you have all the facts and review documentation to ensure that your decision aligns with company policy.
Employee terminations are tricky and complex depending on where you and your employee are located, and a wrong turn may lead to legal trouble. There are many things to take into consideration when it comes to compliance, including:
- Whether you are in an at-will state
- If any biases, such as race, gender or age, played any part in the termination decision, and
- If the termination could be taken as retaliation for employee actions such as taking FMLA.
To ensure that your company is staying in compliance with all federal, state and local laws, you may want to check labor laws or other legal resources.
If you find that any part of the company policy or employee termination process is not in compliance, you may want to get in touch with a legal professional and bring leadership into the conversation to amend policies.
Talk to the employee
Although the actual termination conversation is one that many HR pros and managers dread, it’s a critical step in the employee termination process. Although a face-to-face meeting is always best, sometimes that’s not feasible. Regardless, the termination conversation should always stay professional and respectful.
Employee terminations may also be handled differently depending on what type of termination it is. For example, if it’s for a performance-related issue, you may want to have documentation on hand such as a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).
You’ll also need to go over some basic information on next steps, such as:
Benefits. Make the employee aware of the termination date for benefits as well as their options going forward, such as providing resources for COBRA and any additional perks or benefits that your company offers.
Compensation. Although giving an employee an idea of when they can expect their final paycheck is essential for the employee, it can also help the company stay in compliance with state laws. While some states have no laws surrounding final paychecks, others require paychecks to be given within 24 hours. Laws can also vary depending on whether the employee is fired or if they quit.
Resources for next steps. If the employee termination is due to downsizing or an internal company shift, you may want to provide the employee with any career development resources or connections you can provide to make job searching easier. This may also be a good time to confirm the employee’s official mailing address for future communications, such as W-2s.
Retrieve property and revoke access to software
During the termination meeting, you should retrieve any company property that the employee has on hand such as company laptops, keys or cell phones. Before the day ends, you should revoke any physical access to the office space or change alarm codes.
If the employee is remote, you should communicate information about how they will send any property back. Some companies put the onus on employees to send back equipment, while others provide a pre-labeled package for the employee’s convenience.
Gathering company equipment also includes the digital realm. You may want to communicate with the IT department to revoke access to shared software or computer systems, as well as delete any sensitive employee data.
Conduct an exit interview
Before you fully depart with the employee, it’s important for both the employee and the company that any terminated employee has the chance to do an exit interview. Exit interviews give employees the chance to describe their time at the company as a whole, which can give the company valuable insight on what they’re doing right and what needs improvement.
Exit interviews should be conducted by someone not directly involved with the employee’s day-to-day activities if possible, such as someone from the HR department, to ensure that the employee feels comfortable enough to answer questions with full honesty.
A good exit interview can provide valuable feedback on core parts of a company, such as leadership, culture and benefits. To get the most out of the interview, you may want to have a mixture of open-ended and detailed questions. Questions during an exit interview could look like:
- What can the organization improve on?
- Did you have all the tools you needed to succeed in your role?
- What was the best part about working for this company?
- Would you recommend this company to a friend? Why or why not?, and
- How would you describe the company culture?
Before the interview is over, be sure to leave room for employees to add anything that you haven’t covered already.
Document the employee termination
Once the employee termination is complete, you’ll want to keep a record of the termination, including the reason for separation and the official date of termination. If the decision was due to a performance or conduct issue, you’ll also want to keep supporting evidence for your decision, such as write-ups or performance reviews.
This isn’t just for the company’s knowledge; the EEOC requires employee records to be kept for a year after the termination date.
Tie up any loose ends
Every employee termination is different and may come with different needs, so there may be additional needs that HR must tend to depending on the situation. After the employee is fully terminated, you may want to:
- Discuss with their team leader how to best let other employees know of the termination
- Prepare for unemployment claims if applicable, and
- Work with managers to come up with a plan for the terminated employee’s roles and responsibilities.