Terminating an employee is difficult and requires advance planning.
Companies typically dread even the thought of having to terminate an employee, let alone consider all the extraneous details. Terminations have been made particularly complicated by the remote work environment.
The risk of terminating an employee without planning was recently highlighted when an HR executive from Florida was reportedly charged with maliciously destroying personnel files and thousands of résumés for prospective employees after being let go by phone from her job at 1-800Accountant. The employee worked at the company six months before being terminated for poor performance.
Even though she was escorted off the premises following her termination, the former employee allegedly logged into an outside computer system used to manage job applications and then allegedly deleted 17,000 résumés. Prosecutors also claim that she left profanity-filled messages throughout the files.
Planning is everything when terminating an employee, and these are some important considerations:
- If there is even a potential or question as to whether an employee will become volatile during an in-person termination, have an armed security guard present.
The minor expense and inconvenience are well worth the peace of mind of keeping everyone safe. If the employee shows any volatility following the termination, consider maintaining the security presence for some period of time, while monitoring the former employee’s social media activity or other behaviors to evaluate threats made against the company.
Threats to sue are actually a sign that the former employee is focused on litigation and not violence, but each case is fact-specific and warrants a threat assessment.
- Before terminating a worker, employers need to determine what access the person has to information, including not just email or other electronic communications, but also internal access to servers and information such as customers, sales, documents and the like.
Businesses also should consider whether the employee has access to external sites, such as the company’s social media, vendor sites, job sites, third-party software and the like.
Before terminating an employee, companies need to disable any access to information or electronic communications.
It is crucial that companies properly disable this access before the person is terminated. This can be a tricky nuance because the timing is key, and employers don’t want to disable the access before the termination because this could trigger a notice to the worker that termination is imminent.
In a perfect situation, the access is removed during the termination discussion, but if that isn’t possible, before the discussion but not after.
It takes seconds for a disgruntled employee to wreak havoc on the company’s social media or electronic communications or information. Employers should also consider whether the employee has physical keys or other ways to access the premises or parking.
- Assuming your information is secure, the actual equipment should be low priority.
In Virginia, you can sue the former worker for the failure to return equipment, but you cannot reduce funds from a final paycheck for equipment that is not returned.
In a perfect scenario, the keys, credit card, cellphone, computer and other equipment and company property are collected at the time of termination. However, with remote work this has been made more complicated.
- If you suspect the employee will attempt to disparage the company publicly, you should plan your response.
Having a response team ready may reduce the rapid spread of disparaging information. If the former employee violates the law, to include defamation or revealing confidential or proprietary information, employers should have lawyers on hand to send a cease and desist, or even to file litigation.
In the 1-800Accountant case, the company apparently tapped into law enforcement.
- No matter what an employee has done, the employee should always be treated with respect in any termination.
Be honest about why the employee is being terminated, and make the meeting short and direct. The interaction is not a debate.
Terminations are difficult for everyone, and taking the high road by being respectful to a person being terminated may diminish the potential negative after-effects.