Best Practices in Employee Separations - Tilson


Best Practices in Employee Separations

Regulations & Compliance | October 2015

When an employee relations issue persists, the leader within wants to coach employees through these unfortunate situations. However, when coaching and guidance fails to work and termination is imminent, it is important to adhere to an established protocol in order to mitigate risk.

In an article written in the Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM), Tevis Marshall notes that employers should engage in a pre-termination strategy that includes an investigation to thoroughly review all related documentation, and an interview with the employee to allow them to tell “their side of the story” (Marshall, 2014).

Documentation, documentation, documentation….  One of the driving factors in determining if a company is liable for unemployment benefits or discrimination will be the documentation that led up to the termination.  If an employee is having performance problems, consider engaging in a progressive discipline process and document the steps you have taken to rectify the problem.   In this process, the first action taken is generally a verbal warning where the manager brings the unacceptable behavior to the employee’s attention.  In a perfect world, the employee’s behavior improves after the verbal warning, but if not, a formal written warning should be the result.  In the written warning, stand firm on your expectations and always include the consequences for non-compliance (suspension, termination, etc.).   When outlining consequences in a verbal or written warning, be prepared to enforce them!  If you fail to follow through, you risk losing credibility and compromising the integrity of the system.

It is also important that employees have the tools necessary to perform the job and assist in carrying out the goals and objectives of the organization.  You will want to be certain that a lack of resources isn’t contributing to employee performance problems.  Reasonable employee requests should be evaluated to determine how the proposed trainings, tools or professional development opportunities will advance efforts to achieve departmental and organizational goals.  As a rule, employees who have a perceived or communicated disability must be afforded accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Tilson HR clients should contact their Account Managers or another member of the Human Resources team for guidance and ADA compliance.

In the event of a termination meeting, we can expect that an employee will be upset; however, they should not be surprised if we have done our due diligence (progressive discipline steps).  Beth Thompson, Tilson Account Manager, advises clients that termination meetings should be short and to the point.  Thompson notes that managers should not open the door to discussion because it gives the employee the impression that there is something they can say that will change the decision.

If there is a possibility of aggressive behavior based on past interactions with the employee, management should prepare a plan in advance of the meeting.  In a recent SHRM article, Rebecca A. Speer, an attorney with Speer Associates, advises employers to “engage a qualified threat assessment expert when faced with an employee who has acted out in inappropriately angry and aggressive ways, particularly when that behavior involves direct or implied threats.” (Wilkie, 2015).  The best line of defense in a situation where you suspect there might be aggressive behavior is a well prepared plan.

Marshall, T. (2014, June 25).   Terminations: Tips for Reducing Liability Before firing, consider medical conditions, disabilities, discrimination claims. Retrieved October 12, 2015, from

Wilkie, D. (2015, August 8).   EAPs May Not Be Best Route for Angry, Threatening Employees If co-workers fear for their safety, a workplace threat assessment is in order. Retrieved October 12, 2015, from

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