When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

I recently met an entrepreneur who shared a story of a very troubling experience she had while terminating an employee a few weeks ago.  

The business owner described the hysterics, tears, anger and disbelief from the worker, as well as the upset this caused in the workplace.  As we continued our conversation, it became clear why the conversation became so difficult.  

In her desire to be empathetic, and because she didn’t have the skills to conduct an efficient termination, the business owner allowed the termination to slide off track with excessive explanation, defense, sympathy and tension.

Be Clear on Your Reason for Termination

When you decide to terminate an employee, it will be for one of two reasons – either for cause, or for poor fit.  If it is a for cause termination, you’ll have adequate evidence, documentation and perhaps a culminating incident that has brought you to the point of no return, all of which ideally have been documented at the time of event or behaviour.

If you are terminating for poor fit, you will be paying severance as determined by Employment Standards. But whichever the reason, be sure to clear on why you’re doing it and prepare accordingly before meeting with the employee.

Get to the Point Quickly

In both cases, the most important part of the transaction is the conversation.  Keep it short, simple and on track.  Be prepared – practically and emotionally. And always take a witness.  Prepare them as well, and rehearse with them what will take place and what will be said.

In preparing for a termination conversation, remember that no matter how you put it, this is bad news for the person on the receiving end.  Even if the employee knows this is coming, it will still be hard to hear.  

It’s critical to get to the point as quickly as possible.   No matter what your relationship with the employee is at this point, this is a time when the less said, the better.  Here’s a sample script:

You: Bob, I am afraid I have some bad news for you.  We are terminating your employment with us effective immediately.

Pause – if this termination is for cause, say so and give the employee the termination letter and any outstanding earnings and vacation pay.  If this is a termination for poor fit, say so and give the employee any outstanding earnings, vacation pay and severance.  In either case, give a brief explanation of the documents.

Handling the Aftermath

If the employee cries or becomes angry, calmly inform him/her that you understand this is difficult to hear, and if he/she wants to contact you in a day or two after it sinks in, it would be OK to do so.  It rarely happens that a terminated employee takes advantage of this invitation.

Ask the employee for any keys, cards, passwords or other company property.  Under no circumstances should the employee be allowed to return to a desk or office.  Ask your witness to escort the employee off premises.  If the employee has personal belongings anywhere, your witness will provide escort to the worker to get them.  

Once you have finished your conversation with the terminated employee, your immediate role is complete and you should absent yourself from the exchange completely. Return to your desk and make detailed notes as required. 

Moving Forward

Termination isn’t easy for anyone. The key is to keep the person’s dignity intact and keep the conversation calm and short.  

Once you have completed a termination, re-examine how the person was hired in the first place.  Are there lessons learned that can be applied to future hiring?