No matter how much effort you put into your workplace and coaching employees, sometimes life just happens and employees will need to leave your workplace for reasons beyond your control. On the other hand, there will also be times when you may need to separate an employee who is not a good match for the job they were hired for. Basically, it’s going to happen so being prepared will always make for a better experience for all involved.
Regardless of the circumstance, there are laws and regulations that need to be followed for you to be compliant and avoid or at least minimize complaints and litigation. As with most business processes, take time to do your homework and learn what your state requires when separating an employee as it relates to how and when to pay your employees at separation.
There are also things you can do to make the separation of an employee a more professional experience for all. Understanding the difference between voluntary and involuntary separations can help you plan for a timely and professional separation experience for you and the employee. Many states define “timely” in different ways and based on different types of separations so you always need to do your homework ahead of time. In addition, being aware of what may be considered “good cause” and “without good cause” reasons for leaving can help you analyze your turnover and make positive improvements in your workplace in the future. While you can’t always save that employee that has already made a decision to leave, there are times when they may be able to provide valuable insight into practices and environment issues that may exist and be addressed to prevent future employee turnover.
Many employers think that being an “at-will employer” will shield them from employee wrongful termination complaints and lawsuits however that is not usually the case. When separations are involuntary, in most cases you will want to be sure you have clear documentation for the reason for the separation and your efforts in providing the employee an opportunity for improvement. Employers must often be able to demonstrate that the employee had proper training and communication of any shortfalls prior to being separated from employment. Thorough and timely documentation is the key to show your efforts in supporting the employee’s success. Depending on the reason for separation, that may not always be the case but it is a good practice to follow.
There is an old saying along the lines of people don’t remember what you say as much as how you made them feel. So while documentation will help you if you end up in court or with a complaint, how you handle the arrangements and final discussion can go a long way in reducing the possibility of going that direction to begin with. There is nothing much to be gained by embarrassing an employee on their way out and much more to be gained by showing some compassion once the separation decision has been made.
Often you (or your supervisors) are the last contact an employee may have with the company and how you treat that employee during the separation process may determine whether they leave graciously or not. Remember, sometimes all it takes is a mistake during the separation process - a discipline error, a documentation slip-up or a malicious tone to spark years of litigation. So, make it a point to take time to coach your employees, do your homework on pay requirements and treat people respectfully so in the end, the employee will be more likely to leave graciously and focused on their next endeavor instead of your mistakes.