The Do’s and Don’ts of Terminating Remote Employees

Employee termination and layoff is a tricky subject that needs to be handled sensitively. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown many curveballs to the HR department, and now they have a uniquely difficult task: terminating remote employees. Many HR managers prefer in-person interactions when terminating an employee. However, with the number of remote workers on the rise, this has now become a difficult proposition. Letting go of a team member in traditional settings is in itself a difficult situation, and remote work can make it a much harder task. There can be unique communication challenges making the process harder than usual. 

Videoconferencing can be leveraged as an effective tool to deliver the news and handle the situation well. It allows all parties to convey and understand non-verbal gestures and appears more personal than an email. It demonstrates empathy and reduces the chance of friction and allows the employee to question or share their thoughts.  

  • Schedule your time

With layoffs becoming a common occurrence in every industry, it is important to remember that there is a suitable time and place to carry this out remotely. The pandemic has been equally hard on everyone and delivering bad news of such magnitude requires extra sensitivity. Rather than springing this unceremoniously upon the employee, schedule a video call to discuss this in a remote setup. Set a timeline for the departure of the employee and give them a chance to serve their notice periods. Even in this difficult time, it will help them move with dignity and maintain professionalism in the organization. Account for different time zones when setting the meeting and give them ample scope to provide feedback.

  • Plan ahead

Before starting the meeting it is important to plan the entire journey and be ready for any contingency. Terminating an employee is a difficult task and following a checklist can ensure that everything goes according to the plan. 

  • The termination letter, which includes the last day of work, the reason for termination and other affiliated details.
  • Retrieving property or tools given to the employee during their course of employment with the company.
  • Online access to different software and work tools.
  • Inform details of the severance package, if applicable.

Having all your material ready ensures that you don’t come to the meeting unprepared and have a clear plan in mind to execute the decision.

  • Communicate openly

Ease of communication is one of the downsides to remote working. While modern technological tools have managed to close this gap, when it comes to firing an employee the best mode to communicate is via face-to-face communication. Therefore, in the case of remote employees, HR Managers must practise clear communication. This applies not only to the terminated employee but also to those who will be affected by this decision. Open communication means being transparent about the entire process, informing them about the reasons for termination and answering their questions promptly. Clear communication is the cornerstone of HR and remote termination is one aspect of it. Call a brief meeting of remaining employees or send an email detailing the departure to reassure them.

  • Explain your decision

Every employee has the right the know the reason for their termination. Employee termination decision is usually not sudden and come after several warnings or performance improvement attempts. The employee should be made aware that their failure to comply with past notices is resulting in their termination. If there was any other serious offence resulting in immediate termination, then that too should be duly informed. Your employees should anyway be cognizant of immediate causes of termination during their employment period. If there is company-wide downsizing due to financial constraints or economic reasons, then the employee deserves to know so. Walk into the meeting with a clear decision and don’t get persuaded unless there is some legitimate reason to stop the termination. 

  • Keep legal obligations in mind

Employee termination is governed by different laws depending on the land of its operation. As an HR manager, one should be aware of these laws which may be different depending on your location. Violating any of these laws can make you susceptible to lawsuits and penalties, resulting in far-reaching repercussions. Therefore, before you get on to the process consult your legal team or research well to find out that your actions comply with the law. Many countries have specific provisions guiding employee termination and severance packages. Although the termination process is being carried out remotely, employers must adhere to these policies by completing the severance formalities on time.

  • Plan to retrieve materials

Every organization during employment provides an employee with materials required to complete their duties effectively. It can be laptops, cellular devices, company credit cards, etc. On their termination, arrangements must be made to retrieve these materials. In case of an amicable parting, you can cover the shipping costs for the company material. Any final due payments should also be cleared at this stage to make the parting process easier. Prepare an equipment checklist outlining the products they hold. Provide your employees with the checklist so that they can mail all the company equipment on time. Retrieving all the material should be of utmost priority and carried out with precision. Check all the equipment once you have the package for any damage.

  • Disable access to company systems

Your online access list will have details of the email addresses, databases, social media accounts that an employee can access. Upon their termination, make a plan to disable their access to company data to protect key information. Disgruntled remote employees have a unique opportunity to retrieve and destroy key data if they choose to do so. Inform your IT Team and take measures to close their access immediately on their departure. While this situation is rare, it is important to stay ahead and plan for any contingency. Disconnect a terminated employee’s access to company servers immediately after the termination process. It is also a wise step to change company passwords after a member departs unceremoniously. 

Employee termination is one of the dreaded tasks undertaken by the HR department. Things can escalate quickly making the entire process difficult and ugly. As a representative of the organization, the HR department should hold the process in a dignified manner. While terminating an employee is always difficult, terminating a remote employee comes with a unique set of challenges. If the termination is necessary; do so privately and quickly. Even if it’s online, be empathetic and make the process streamlined and as painless as possible.