Employers Can Avoid Claims by Firing with a Heart

Conventional wisdom tells bosses to take a clinical approach to firing employees: say little, don’t answer questions and have the employee escorted out of the building…on a Friday. This approach, however, often results in a surprised, angry, hurt and resentful former employee…one who is much more likely to sue. Executive coaches and HR specialists are counseling employers to have a heart when terminating or laying off an employee. By humanizing the process, employers can avoid unpredictable behavior including violence and lawsuits.

While the fundamental rules still apply (i.e. stick to the facts, do not negotiate), taking the following steps can leave an employee with dignity and self-respect, lessening the chance of a claim:

  • Be Truthful about the Reason for Termination: tell the employee whether it is performance, lay-off, elimination of position
  • Show Empathy: it’s o.k. to let the employee know that the decision was a difficult one (if it was)
  • Consider Severance: whether or not the employee is entitled, especially in exchange for a release
  • Help the Employee Move On: offer assistance, contacts, and a good reference (if warranted)
  • Allow for Transition: if appropriate, give the employee time to find a new job and announce their departure to colleagues
  • Communicate with Remaining Employees: if the termination is likely to affect morale, openly address employee concerns

Of course, there are many circumstances that warrant a quick discussion and escort out of the premises, but more often there is an opportunity to lessen the severity of a termination by incorporating some humanity. There is no question that a terminated employee who is treated with dignity and respect is less likely to pursue a claim.  

Warren & Hays assists employers with all aspects of performance management from hiring through termination.