Employee termination: How to properly release an employee

Just like in the hiring process, it’s essential that a company follows an employee termination process so terminated employees are provided the correct information, tools, and clarity they need to move forward beyond their time at your organization. In this article we’ll outline the core steps to follow when beginning a termination process.

Introduction: What is employee termination?

Employee termination refers to the process of releasing an employee from employment. It’s important to note that employee termination is not always as simple as “firing” an employee. Sometimes companies will lay off employees due economic downturns (i.e., pandemics), severe profit losses, or simply at the end of a working contract. The typical instances of terminating an employee are when performance issue continue or other behavioral issues take place that violate company values or even the law which is what we will discuss in this article.

5 step process for handling an employment termination

1. Schedule a meeting

Scheduling a meeting before any written communication takes place is essential. In a day and age when we have access to endless means of instant written communication, we must emphasize the value and importance of in-person or video chat meetings. Employers should schedule termination meetings before any written communication for the following reasons:

  • Meetings showcase nuanced non-verbal channels of communication which will provide emotional cues otherwise unknown
  • By taking the time to meet, both parties are allowed to hash out reasonings and address any major questions or concerns
  • Meetings help employers avoid lawsuits in discrimination or other harmful charges that would otherwise not be disclosed or known
  • Lastly, meetings are a respectful way to end employment

2. Be prepared

Once you’ve sent a meeting request to your employee, it’s time to prepare your materials. Here’s a basic checklist:

  • Review the employee’s personnel file, which will document things like performance of conduct problems, backing your reason to release them
  • Know the steps the company has taken to improve employee performance or behavior i.e., coaching or training schedules
  • Be ready to explain the next steps e.g., when to expect the final paycheck, what will happen to employee benefits, whether a severance package is included, etc. If you are not the HR Manager in this scenario, it may benefit you to meet with your organization’s resource to get these details straight, such as non-compete or non-disclosure agreements
  • Finally, prepare your termination letter. The letter should state what you plan on discussing in the meeting, and will be provided post-discussion

3. Get to the point: What to say in a termination meeting

We’ve now reached meeting time. Just like a job interview, skip the overdrawn chit-chat. Employees will know something is “up” simply by being at an ad-hoc meeting with an HR manager or team lead.

End the meeting as positively as possible. Acknowledge their time spent at the organization and provide resources when necessary — for example, some employers will offer to be a resource for finding other opportunities, or even a different job at their own organization.

Tip: Remember, unclear is unkind. Being as clear as possible, is as kind as possible.

4. Tap into emotional intelligence

Terminating an employee is not easy. At its core, employee termination is conflict resolution. One of the key aspects of conflict resolution is Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Emotional intelligence is:
✅ Tactical empathy: Tactical empathy is when you tap into other people’s emotions, sense what they feel, and feel and regulate what you are feeling. For example, when facing a rebuttal, you can say simply and calmly, “I understand where you’re coming from, but this decision is final.”

✅ Mind & body: Being able to hold emotion in a heated conversation in your body and while watching your thoughts, is pivotal. This takes compassion, patience, and perseverance.

✅ Practical & practiced: Emotions, particularly negative ones, will never feel easy. Practicing the skill of emotion understanding and behavioral regulation as a company leader or Human Resources Manager is key.

Emotional intelligence is NOT:
⛔️ Sympathy Only: Sympathy is key to understanding feelings but it’s also important to know when sympathy and compassion are important and when they are not.

⛔️ Manipulation: You shouldn’t manipulate our way through the emotions of others. Negative emotions are here to stay, and they should be treated with the same respect and acknowledgement as positive emotions.

⛔️ Simmering or heightening: Know how to de-escalate a tense emotional situation and how to move through them rather than simmer.

5. Disclose information to your team

Lastly, employers should notify the remainder of the team of the recent termination. Don’t disclose confidential information but do provide enough information that will allow employees to move forward, such as, “We have released Thomas from his job here at our firm for reasons violating our company policy. These decisions are never easy, but it is now my job to assure we move forward with a plan and keep our focus on our mission. If you have any outstanding questions, you can email HR.”

Things to avoid when terminating an employee

  • Come unprepared: Having a clear and concise reason, as well as the next steps, is essential in conveying that termination is non-negotiable
  • Wallow in it: After a termination is complete, focus on moving your organization forward and communicating with your team
  • Take it personal: As either the lead or HR manager, you’ll be the brunt of a negative reaction. Remember, while this is tough, it’s not personal
  • Avoid the topic: Outside of confidential information, you’ll need to tell your team that an employee has been let go


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