How to Handle Post-Termination with an Employee

If your company hasn’t developed one, work with your management to develop a disciplined, clearly defined procedure for what happens after you fire an employee. Make the break as clean as possible — albeit with respect to the feelings and dignity of the person being fired.

Harsh and humiliating though the practice may seem, accompany the dismissed employee back to her workstation, give the employee a chance to collect her personal belongings, and escort the employee out the door.

If the company has confidentiality agreements, remind employees — in writing — of their legal obligations, ideally by handing them a copy of such agreements. Also, advise employees that they’re no longer authorized to access the company’s computer systems and any online accounts.

Generally speaking, holding the meeting early in the week and at the end of the workday is best. If you conduct the termination meeting on Monday or Tuesday, you make it easier for the dismissed employee to get started immediately on a job search and for you to begin searching for another employee.

By delivering the news as late in the day as possible, you spare the employee the embarrassment of clearing out his or her office in front of co-workers.

Some companies ask a discharged employee to sign a written waiver or release of legal claims in exchange for a financial payment or other extra consideration. Often called a severance agreement, some employers require employees to sign this document and return it by a specified date as a condition for receiving severance payments.

Note that this payout is separate from any wage-related compensation regulated by state or federal law, such as accrued benefits or regular compensation. Due to the differences in the time requirements between when final pay must be given to the terminated employee and when payment under a severance agreement may be due, it is quite possible that there will be two separate checks involved.

Although some people believe that employers who present waivers of rights while terminating employees can communicate — merely by presenting the waiver — that they’re worried about the legality of their actions, it’s quite common practice in many companies and a useful business tool. Keep in mind, though, that your legal counsel should closely review such a document and that, typically, the employee should be encouraged to consult legal counsel as well.

In fact, it’s a good practice to discourage employees from signing the document during the termination meeting — if she does, she may argue later that she signed the document while under duress, a legal doctrine that could justify setting it aside as invalid.

If your company asks an employee to release claims of age discrimination under federal law, Congress has established a series of requirements that must be met, including certain language within the document itself and certain time requirements. Otherwise, the release will be considered an invalid waiver — even if the employee accepts the financial payment for the release.

Also, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and some state laws impose limitations on the release of wage claims. Consult legal counsel for help in these technical areas.

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