How to handle employee separations

October 17, 2016 -  By

Photo: © are several best practices for handling employee separations.

Parting ways with an employee is always difficult for managers. I’ve handled hundreds of employee separations as a manager throughout my career and know there are solid best practices for handling these situations. Some of my greatest regrets as a manager involve situations in which best practices weren’t followed, resulting in unnecessarily painful separations, ruined relationships and sleepless nights.

For those without such intense personal experiences to draw on, the news is filled with tragic situations in which employee circumstances are mishandled. Sometimes lives are lost. In fact, the phrase “going postal” was coined to express the outrage of employees who felt disenfranchised by their employers and wished to seek revenge on them. Handling separations is serious.

First and foremost, a separation should be a last resort. Unless an employee does something so egregious, all other options should be exhausted before separating. All efforts should be directed at restoring the employee through a progressive disciplinary process, which provides a step-by-step system to allow an employee to be restored or leave. A good, progressive disciplinary process that’s well executed by management is the first best practice.

With a solid progressive disciplinary process in place, a separation will never be a surprise to an employee because all the steps leading up to the separation are built into the process. Not only will an employee not be surprised, but he’ll have been expecting it. When an employee is given a formal final notice in writing, which states he’ll be terminated if the behavior continues, he won’t be shocked when the day comes.

Sometimes managers want to give an employee advance warning that he’s going to be terminated. But this isn’t a good idea because it leaves managers in an uncontrollable situation. The best practice is for the separation to be handled in a highly controlled environment to minimize the risk of something going wrong. Unfortunately, this means it might not be announced to the employee ahead of time.

Another best practice is to take time to seriously plan ahead for the separation so all elements have been considered and are in place before executing it. This involves:

  • determining who will be involved;
  • when and where it will happen;
  • how it will be communicated;
  • what everyone’s talking points will be;
  • preparing all paperwork;
  • addressing security concerns; and
  • how best to retrieve keys, change passwords, retrieve assets and handle communications.

The more prepared management is, the better.

The person handling the separation should never be alone with the employee. There always should be a second person to act as a witness and provide support as needed. The manager in charge may or may not be present, depending on the situation. The second person should be selected carefully and shouldn’t be someone who will create unnecessary discussion or emotion.

Sometimes separations need to be handled relatively quickly and there’s not much time to prepare. Therefore, another best practice is to have a documented process in place that might be followed step by step, even on short notice. No step should be missed, especially required paperwork.

Managers should assume they’ll need to defend their decisions in front of a jury several years from now. Capturing all pertinent information at the time of the separation is important. Human resource consultants and attorneys are good resources to draft employee separation agreements that will protect the company.

A difficult—but probably the most important—best practice is to protect the dignity of the person through the entire process. You can do this in various ways, like providing privacy or simply being kind. If there was ever a good application of the Golden Rule, it’s during a separation. If you were the employee being let go, how would you want to be treated?

By following these best practices, managers will find they have better outcomes, less drama, fewer hurt feelings and more sleep-filled nights.

Now go forth.

Quick tip:

The person handling the separation should never be alone with the employee. There always should be a second person to act as a witness and provide support.

Photo: ©

This article is tagged with , and posted in 1016, Business Planner 2017
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About the Author:

Harwood is a Managing Partner with GrowTheBench and Pro-Motion Consulting. Reach him at He is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager, NALP Trailblazer, NALP Consultant, and Certified Snow Professional. Harwood holds a BA in Marketing and Executive MBA with Honors from Michigan State University.

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