Nobody enjoys the termination process. Managers, HR professionals and employees all head into it with dread, resentment, anger and awkwardness, and in a civilized world, this is as it should be. If you enjoy letting employees go, we suggest you re-evaluate your line of work (at the very least). But sometimes this task is unavoidable. So when the time comes to dismiss an employee for performance issues, disciplinary problems, or company restructuring, make sure your actions and words are carefully chosen. A single mistake can expose your company to all kinds of backlash, including expensive lawsuits.

Keep these considerations in mind as you move forward with employee terminations:


Carefully review both state and federal laws regarding termination in your area, including statutes covering discrimination, wrongful termination, and breach of contract. If you need help, obtain professional legal counsel. To find resources on Canadian Labour laws, click here and for U.S. labour laws, click here.


If no clear termination protocol exists for your company, now is the time to generate a by-the-book procedure that can be applied consistently and fairly. Some companies follow a termination checklist that begins with a verbal warning, then a written warning, then unpaid leave, then formal termination. If you institute this plan, be prepared to follow through. This means that both minor offenses (like taking home office supplies) and major offenses (like stealing large sums of money from other employees) must be treated with the same verbal warning, and the warning will need to be documented in a consistent way.


At least three people should be in the room when the final conversation with an employee takes place. This can ease the awkwardness and smooth out any complications if something goes wrong. During the conversation, be honest, but don’t argue with the employee. Everything you say can open the door to additional questions about the necessity of the termination.


Never attempt to terminate an employee for performance issues without a documented series of poor reviews. Sophisticated software like emPerform can help you keep clear records, and with these records, you can produce immediate evidence of all the areas in which the employee’s performance varied from clearly defined expectations. You’ll also need to make sure that these defined expectations match what employees are actually expected to do. In all cases, clarity, adherence to procedure, and consistent documentation will be your best protection against legal action and financial loss.

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