Discipline & Termination | 

Never Do This When Terminating an Employee

One of the most difficult aspects of being an employer is making the decision to terminate an employee. Once you determine termination is appropriate, plan for the termination discussion. Be careful what you say because mistakes here can lead to headaches down the road. Here are some examples of statements and actions you should avoid when terminating an employee.

X Delivering the news via text message.

When possible, you should inform the employee of your decision face-to-face. There may be occasions when a face-to-face meeting isn't appropriate, such as when there's a reasonable fear for the safety of co-workers or company property and you don't want the terminated employee coming back to the workplace. In such cases, you may need to inform the employee via a phone call.

X Terminating an employee in front of co-workers.

Terminating an employee can have a negative impact on employee morale, and doing so in front of co-workers can make it even worse. The termination meeting should be held in a private location out of earshot of co-workers.

Once the employee is terminated, let co-workers know about the employee's departure and explain who will be handling their work responsibilities in the future. Avoid disclosing the reason for the employee's departure.

X Meeting with the employee without a witness.

It's a best practice to have a witness, such as an HR representative, present during termination meetings, when possible. The witness can also take notes during the meeting to document what was said.

X Beating around the bush.

Once the termination meeting begins, don't delay delivering the bad news. Clearly and concisely state upfront that you are terminating their employment and provide a brief description why. For instance, "the reason for this meeting is to notify you that I am terminating your employment, effective today, because you didn't meet performance standards."

X Making false or misleading statements.

While you may show compassion (such as thanking them for their contributions and wishing them well), avoid saying anything false or misleading to soften the blow. For instance, if you are terminating because of poor performance, don't suggest possible continued or future employment.

X Arguing with the terminated employee.

Give the employee an opportunity to speak and listen to their point of view, but avoid engaging in an argument. Instead, make clear that the decision is final.

X Failing to address final pay and benefits.

Make sure you're prepared to provide information about the employee's final pay and benefits during the termination meeting. Keep in mind that there are federal and state rules for providing final pay and certain notices to terminated employees. Additionally, depending on your state, you may be required to include accrued, unused vacation and paid time off in the employee's final pay. Make sure you comply with all applicable requirements.

X Withholding final pay until they return company equipment.

As a general rule, you may not withhold final pay until an employee returns company equipment. You must meet the applicable final pay deadline even if the employee hasn't returned company property. Federal law requires final pay at the next regular payday, but several states have their own rules, some of which require final pay at the time of termination.

Deductions: While withholding an employee's final paycheck isn't permitted, there are some cases in which deductions may be allowed under federal law. For non-exempt employees (employees who are entitled to minimum wage and overtime), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits deductions for unreturned equipment as long as it does not reduce the employee's pay below the minimum wage and does not cut into any overtime pay. Some states prohibit this practice or have additional requirements, so check your state law before making a deduction. Deductions for unreturned equipment are not permitted for employees classified as exempt from overtime.

Note: Under the FLSA, employers are generally required to obtain an employee's consent before making a permissible deduction. The agreement must specify the particular items for which deductions will be made (such as company uniforms, equipment, or employee theft) and how the amount of the deduction will be determined. It's a best practice to obtain the employee's authorization in writing and consult legal counsel before making a deduction.


Both the decision to terminate an employee and notifying the employee of that decision must be handled with extreme care. Make sure everyone involved in the process is properly trained.


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