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Preparing for “The Talk”

Emily Hartman /
office worker carrying box of things

The moment you’ve been dreading has arrived. Gulp. One of your employees isn’t working out despite your best efforts and a performance improvement plan. You’ve decided to terminate his/her employment, and you need to have “the talk.” What should you say? What shouldn’t you say? What could land you in a tub of hot water?

You’re Not Alone

Whether you’re leading the conversation or advising a manager, terminating someone is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Remember that you’re not alone. Work with your legal team, other HR staff, and your organization’s leadership to:

  • Review your documentation. Did you place the employee on a 30-, 60-, or 90-day performance improvement plan? Did you document your coaching sessions and performance meetings? Your meetings, notes, and performance metrics help ensure this isn’t a surprise to the employee and are the foundation for your talking points.
  • Ensure the termination is legally compliant. An attorney will help you navigate your state employment laws and ensure the termination is justifiable in court.
  • If you’re leading the conversation, someone else should be in the room with you to serve as a witness. This person strengthens your legal defense if it comes to that. He/She also can help diffuse a tense situation if necessary.

Preparation Helpstext bubbles of termination script

Your anxiety and guilt may be running high, so figure out ways to take your emotions out of the situation:

  1. Plan logistics. Put together a packet of information, like a formal termination letter and unemployment benefits, to give to your employee. Be thoughtful about what day and time you schedule the meeting. Fridays are the worst days to fire someone, Tuesday through Thursday are preferable so that you or HR are available to answer any follow-up questions.
  2. A termination checklist is a great asset, outlining the notifications and tasks to complete before and after you terminate the employee. Did you let IT know? Does payroll know when to prepare the final check or expense report?
  3. Practice what you’ll say. How many times did you have performance meetings? What kind of feedback did you give him/her? This information can form your talking points and is a good reference in case the employee protests the termination.Talk with other HR staff or your legal team about what to say. If it helps to write it down, do that, but don’t leave it sitting on the copier. Keep it short and direct. Check out “the talk” infographic for some scripted suggestions.
  4. Prepare for the repercussions. Your employee’s response will be negative, but the best thing to do is to remain calm and not react strongly. Try not to get caught in an argument, hold firm to your decision. If you’re concerned about the employee’s volatility, have security present.Your other consideration is about the staff’s response to the news. As much as possible, you want to eliminate the gossip. When you inform employees about the termination, request respect and support for their coworker.

Nothing about “the talk” is easy, but with the right approach, you can cut down on the unnecessary confusion, drama, and stress. If you’re still unsure or would like some additional support, many KPA clients use the “Ask the Expert” service to speak with a certified HR professional about their situations and receive some compliance guidance.

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