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November 26, 2019

6 Steps to Take Before Terminating an Employee


Sometimes an employee just doesn’t meet expectations. Before you send an employee on their way, are you sure job responsibilities were clearly spelled out? Did you provide guidance? Was there a plan to help the employee improve?

Follow these steps to ensure you’re handling the process correctly and avoiding potential problems later.

1. Write Everything Down
If you don’t write something down, it can be argued that it didn’t happen. Even informal conversations written in a notebook can be helpful and count toward documentation.

2. Clearly Communicate Expectations
For every job, you should have a job description. Even if you don’t have anything formalized, you should have a solid understanding of the functions and responsibilities of each role on your team. You should also know what it takes for employees to be successful in each role. And it’s essential that your employees know this, too. Your progressive discipline policy should be established, outlining how corrective action and termination should take place if you need to go there. Following a progressive discipline policy helps ensure that similar issues are handled consistently and fairly.

3. Be a Good Coach
New and existing employees should be coached. This is informal feedback and consists of what’s right as well as what’s wrong. Your employees need this feedback to understand how they’re doing before you get to the point of considering disciplinary action or termination.

4. Initiate a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)
Let’s say you’ve provided ongoing coaching, but you’re seeing some major performance concerns with that coaching hasn’t affected. This would be a good time to develop a performance improvement plan (PIP). It should articulate the problem areas and give detailed goals about what’s expected to correct it.

In some cases, verbal counseling might be the better way to go. Use this in addressing things like attendance, communication, and other behavioral issues. The timeline given to improve should be reasonable. Some deficiencies are quicker to fix than others. Document the conversation and plan. Have your employees sign an acknowledgment form to confirm that they understand.

Hold regular follow-up meetings. Make sure you document these conversations and have employees sign that they attended. Give them specific feedback on how they’re doing.

5. Conduct Written Counseling
If things are getting egregious, move to written counseling. This is somewhat similar to the PIP. It should outline areas employees need to correct. Detail specifically what needs to improve and how this should be accomplished. The counseling form should also express that improvement needs to be immediate, marked (noticeable), and sustained. Employees should sign this form after you’ve discussed it with them. This doesn’t mean they have to agree with what you’ve documented.

6. When All Else Fails, Terminate Employment
Despite your efforts, you still may not see the type or quality of improvement needed – and the only option left is to sever the relationship. By now, you should’ve clearly documented what you did to help the underperforming employee improve.

Prior to terminating, review associated documentation. Contact your legal counsel or HR representative to review your decision. You want your termination decision to be supported, justified, and sound. Confirm that you’re following all state-specific wage and hour regulations. If you use employment contracts or non-compete/non-solicitation agreements, ask legal counsel to provide validity and enforcement guidance.

In releasing employees, honesty is the best policy. For example, you can say, “John, as you know, we’ve talked a few times about your attendance, and we haven’t seen this improve as we would have liked. We have made the decision to terminate your employment effective immediately.”

The termination process doesn’t have to be stressful if you have the right documentation and processes in place. Visit for HR tips and guidance that can help your business soar.

Dawn Motsiff is a human resources advisor at Insperity, an NSCA Business Accelerator.

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