Firing an employee is never easy, but it is especially difficult when you rarely need to perform the task. Working in a small business, you cannot afford the same legal slip-ups as large corporations. Instead of guessing what information to include in an official employee termination letter, use these tips to let your former worker know exactly where he or she stands.
1. Stick to the facts. Do not embellish the truth, either for the worker’s benefit or for your own. Avoid language that is discriminatory, biased or derogatory.
2. Focus on specific criteria for continued employment. If your termination case goes to court, you want to be able to show measurable, objective standards for all individuals in the same job classification. For instance, you can document the occasions the employee had been absent or tardy versus the acceptable limit, the number and severity of customer complaints and the amount of unfinished work.
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3. Divide the letter into five sections. In the first section, include the name of your company, the name of the employee and the effective date of the termination. In the second section, detail the history of verbal and written warnings, any accommodations and final reasons for termination. Third, add the process and deadlines for returning any company property. Fourth, include information about the person’s final paycheck, severance pay and continuing health insurance. Finally, detail reasonable non-disclosure clauses and appeals procedures, if applicable.
4. Deliver the signed and dated termination letter via a traceable method. Both you and the employee need to know that the message has been received, even if the employee does not agree with your decision. If you choose to hand over the letter during an exit interview, request a signed confirmation.
5. Seek professional counsel for your first termination. You must make sure that your letter and your firing process comply with all federal, state and local laws. The requirements for an “at will” relationship differ from “with cause” agreements.
6. Keep copies of all correspondence and supporting documentation. Even if you write only a synopsis of events for the official letter, include a detailed log in your own personnel files. Since employment lawsuits can drag out for months or even years after the termination date, never rely on your own memory. Ask all participants to document their experiences, complete with signatures and dates.
Whether you are firing someone due to poor performance, staff layoffs or lack of funding, the basic process is the same. Follow the checklist above, and you will soon hold an effective, straight-to-the-point termination letter that meets everyone’s needs.
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