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One of the many new challenges that employers are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic is conducting terminations. Traditionally, terminations happen in-person, in a private office with HR and any other relevant departments represented. Now that many employees are working remotely, however, this process has become very different for many employers.

Employers should have an effective process in place to conduct remote terminations. Doing so can help employers be better prepared for these challenging discussions, and it can reduce business risk significantly. In this post, we’ll provide useful guidance that employers can follow to conduct remote terminations including:

  • Having a clear remote termination process in place
  • Preparing for a remote termination
  • Conducting a remote termination

Having a Clear Remote Termination Process in Place

If you haven’t yet established a remote termination process, now is the perfect time to do so. With an uncertain future about what the workplace will look like, most employers should assume that they will have to perform numerous remote terminations moving forward. By being prepared to repeat this process, it will become more comfortable and employers can mitigate the risks associated with terminations.

Employers should determine which virtual platform will be the standard for conducting remote terminations within their organization. Whether you choose to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, or any other platform, just be sure to familiarize yourself with the functionality and use it consistently. Also, be sure that it is a private meeting that requires a password to enter. Another hiccup you’ll want to avoid is having an unsuspecting employee accidentally enter the termination meeting and therefor violate the privacy of the person being terminated.

You must also determine whom should be present on that virtual call, and what topics will be discussed. Typically, it’s best-practice not to delve into detail around the cause of termination, and instead focus on equipment return protocols and severance (if applicable).

Ultimately, employers must determine what actions to take in preparation for the termination, during the meeting itself, and after letting the employee go. 

Preparing for a Remote Termination

There are several things you’ll want to consider as you prepare for a remote termination:

First, make sure all relevant parties receive an invitation (most likely a digital link) to the meeting as early on as possible. As mentioned in the previous section, be sure that the meeting password is provided to only those that should be attending. Make sure you account for any time zone differences and necessary ADA accommodations.

Second, make sure you review your company’s policies before the meeting. Be prepared to cite any relevant policies to defend your decision to terminate the employee. You most likely have termination-specific policies written for your organization that you’ll also need to follow (such as an at-will employment policy). Make sure that anyone who will be participating in the termination meeting has reviewed the relevant policies as well.

The final thing you should consider before conducting a remote termination is proactively involving IT. In the past when an employee would be terminated from the office, it was much easier to revoke their access to sensitive software, networks, or data. However, when you don’t have access to the physical hardware that the employee uses, this process can be more difficult. Work proactively with your IT department so that you can quickly and adequately revoke the terminated employee’s access to any sensitive data.

Conducting a Remote Termination

Now let’s talk about the recommended steps you should take during the termination meeting:

  1. Introduce everyone who is present in the meeting and their role within the organization and the conversation (for example, the employee’s manager and an HR representative in observance).
  2. Inform the employee of the purpose of the meeting. Let them know they are being terminated. Depending on the circumstances and the advice of your legal counsel, you may or may not want to let them know the reasons why. Typically, it’s best not to provide in-depth details around the cause for termination. Either way, be prepared to cite specific company policies regarding the decision.
  3. Address benefits, severance, and vacation pay. Specifically, let the terminated employee know what will happen regarding their health insurance, 401(K), other retirement accounts, health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, cobra eligibility, vacation payouts, and severance payouts.
  4. Ensure the employee is aware of any necessary follow up tasks. This might include returning company owned software or hardware, passing on proprietary information to team members, deactivating accounts, retrieving any of their personal property that may still be at the office, etc. It could also include passing on information about current projects to whoever will be taking them over. One strategy that could be considered is to send overnight, prepaid, self-addressed packages and mail for the employee to return equipment and documents and provide any required signatures. However, be mindful that these packages and documents do not arrive at the employee’s home before their termination.

Key Takeaways

Remote terminations are most likely the new reality for many employers. Establishing standard processes for conducting these terminations is crucial for mitigating the risks involved and making the process more comfortable and manageable for employers.

Here are some key takeaways that employers should consider before conducting their first remote termination:

  • Establish a clear remote termination process that will be followed every time. This includes predetermining which virtual meeting platform will be used and ensuring that all relevant parties are invited to the meeting. They should also be provided with the meeting password. Your company will likely need to take other specific steps to establish remote termination processes depending on your specific policies (such as equipment return).
  • Prepare for the termination meeting by studying up an all relevant policies, considering ADA accommodations, and proactively working with IT before the meeting.
  • Follow key steps during the termination meeting, such as, 1) Introducing all who are present; 2) Informing the employee of the purpose of the meeting; 3) Address benefits, severance, and vacation pay; and 4) Ensuring the employee is aware of any necessary follow up tasks
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