Our People & Culture Manager Cara Haslop breaks down one of the most complex parts of her role. 

Ending Employment Gracefully

If you’ve had to terminate someone’s employment (or had yours terminated!) you’ll understand how horrible the experience can be. Unfortunately, there will be times that it is absolutely necessary. Involuntary termination is a part of any business. 

You have to remove unproductive employees or to make the necessary cuts to ensure that your business continues to grow. Once you’ve taken all necessary steps and sought appropriate advice to ensure that terminating employment is the right option  (HR, Legal or Fairwork are recommended sources for this!), there are some things you can do to safeguard the process from being a complete disaster.

Before The Meeting

Saying that its important to prepare for these circumstances is an understatement.  In addition to ensuring a fair process has been adhered to, contractual obligations considered, appropriate HR and Legal advice have been sought and relevant documentation is prepared, you also need to consider the tone and environment appropriate for such a serious matter.  A private and neutral meeting place will allow for the sensitivity of the situation and demonstrate respect for your employee as well as protection for other employees.

Depending on the circumstances, you may need to provide advance notice of the meeting and allow your employee to bring a support person with them. An HR Representative or another manager should also attend. Preparing a script for the conversation is also a good idea- after all, you are very likely to be uncomfortable when the time comes to actually convey the message.

Involuntary Termination

During The Meeting

While it’s important to be respectful and informative, it’s not the time for an in-depth and lengthy look back at the employee’s past performance. The fact that their employment is being terminated and the reasons behind the decision need to be communicated up-front, in a clear and concise manner.  You do not want to humiliate your employee nor do you want to put your business at risk by discussing unnecessary or irrelevant matters.

Your script will help you to deliver the news with composure and certainty, and minimise discomfort for the employee.

You can’t adequately prepare for how the impacted employee will react. Your aim should be to ensure they have adequate and accurate information. As well as feeling as supported as possible given the circumstances. Be resolute with your decision, clear with your reasons, and brief with your interaction.

Involuntary Termination

Bringing The Meeting To An End

Showing respect, being honest and complimentary will demonstrate your capacity to empathise. The now ex-employee was obviously hoping for a better outcome. 

In closing the meeting, the employee should be clear on the process for leaving the building. This includes returning company-owned items, how long benefits will continue, their final payment details etc. Failing to provide clarity on what will happen with remuneration and other benefits can become an administrative headache. Which has the potential for drawing out what is already an uncomfortable and difficult process.

Finally, allow the employee time to compose themselves and try to be accommodating with an exit plan. Placing an employee in a situation where they must face their colleagues can be upsetting. And it may not be the best option. Perhaps have someone trusted collect their personal belongings or allow them to collect things after hours. Ensuring they have a safe way home and someone to support them is also the ideal.

The nature of terminating someone’s employment will never be a pleasant experience.  Seeking HR and Legal advice to support your decision is vital. Prepare and communicate with clarity and compassion. It’ll go some way to making the experience as agreeable and comfortable as is possible.

Involuntary Termination

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About the Author:

Kyle Connolly is a trained writer with a background in film and television. After making the switch from TV screen to PC screen, Kyle's helped create and develop content for a multitude of businesses from a variety of sectors across Australia and South Africa. He shot both the sheriff and the deputy.