This past summer, many onlookers watched in fascination as two Uber investors took the necessary steps to terminate Travis Kalanick. This was a unique termination, of course, since Kalanick also founded Uber. In a showdown that had all the intrigue of a murder mystery or action film, two venture capitalists with stakes in Uber intercepted Kalanick who was on his way to a meeting in Chicago. In a meeting that would last close to 24 hours, Matt Cohler and Peter Fenton–who both work for the Silicon Valley firm Benchmark–presented Kalanick with a list of demands, including his resignation. In the end, Cohler and Fenton did get Kalanick to resign. While a forced resignation may not be a termination, in the end, the result is the same: a bad apple is eliminated. As demonstrated, at the top of an organization, a forced resignation may be the only option. Down the hierarchy, however, terminations are usually less complicated. Still, doing them tactfully and legally is not without its challenges.
How to Effectively Handle an Employee Termination
First, there is no question that termination is never desirable. Whether you’re on the firing or fired side, the situation is difficult. Dustin Sanders works a mid-level manager for a food supply company in Connecticut and over three decades, he has terminated at least fifty employees: “This is the part of my job that I really hate! It never gets easier, but I’m better at it now than I was 30 years ago.” Sanders admits that the first time he did a termination, he was a lower level manager and the employee was an summer student. “I was such a loser. I left a note on the poor kid’s desk. That was really unprofessional and of course, the kid never had any idea why he was being fired. He had accidentally shared a lot of confidential information with a client, so it was bad, and we needed to terminate him for liability reasons, but he had no idea why he was let go.” Sanders now has a clear protocol for approaching terminations: “It’s always in person, and I always build in an educational element. I want it to be instructive. Sometimes that’s hard, but this is what I now aim to do.”
Carry Out Performance Reviews: If you have to let someone go either do to a mass layoff or performance issue, you will want to have the documentation on hand to back up your decisions. Carrying out regular reviews is the first step.
Know Your Legal Obligations: Layoffs in particular can be challenging. There are many state and federal regulations that must be covered. In a unionized workplace, layoffs also must adhere to all contractual regulations. Know your legal obligations before deciding who will be let go and ensure you provide employees with the legally sanctioned amount of notice.
Don’t Ignore the Paperwork: Prior to a termination meeting, ensure all the necessary paperwork is in order (e.g., the status of the employee’s benefits and vacation time; details on final pay checks and severance; and information about the timeframe for the termination). When terminating an employee, don’t forget that you are legally obligated to provide information on COBRA, pensions and/or 401(k)s.
Chose an Appropriate Time and Place for the Termination Meeting: It’s taboo to break up with someone via a text message and the same holds true for workplace terminations. Hold an in person meeting in a private location and ideally, ensure the employee can leave the office without having to walk through their colleague’s workspace.
Tell YourTeam: When layoffs happen, expect bad feelings. Even people who keep their jobs may be upset to see close colleagues let go. When a termination happens, even for poor performance, expect to encounter mixed feelings. An employee let go for harassment may have been a close friend of several remaining employees. An employee let go for a compliance error may have previously been considered a vital member of the team. Be transparent about the departure, without oversharing details about the case, and be prepared to support your team as they realign.
To learn more about how to handle terminations, view our free training video: Managing Terminations.
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