Terminating an employee is never easy; it can be challenging and complicated at any time, let alone when the employee is working remotely. For the employee, it can be a traumatic experience, and it has real consequences for that person’s life. However, this may also be an extremely challenging time for your business, and you need to have a plan in place for both before and after the termination of employment.

As a business you are required to treat your employees equally, regardless of whether they are working remotely or in the office. The termination process for both those in the workplace and those remote working should be the same, it may just mean that some meetings may need to be held virtually for those who are remote working. In which case, some additional considerations will need to be made to ensure confidentiality, consistency and fairness, as well as the minimisation of risk and the ability to part with employees on the best terms possible, thereby protecting your reputation and employer brand.

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How to prepare for a remote termination

Setting up the meeting – Consider what is the best platform for the meeting. Can the employee access MS Teams, or would a Zoom meeting be better for them? Familiarising yourself with the functions of the various platforms will help you focus on the task at hand rather than struggling with the technology. A video platform can also provide more transparency as the employee can see who is at the meeting, and it allows for nonverbal communication from all participants. Even a tough decision resulting in the termination of a contract can be delivered that much softer when the employee can see that this is difficult decision for you too.

It is worth checking who is in the room, as you are not always able to control who else may be sitting behind the laptop or computer screen.

Review your company policies and procedures – whatever the reasons for terminating an employment contract, you should always follow the proper termination procedures. You must have a valid, non discriminatory business reason for the termination, and you should have the relevant documentation to evidence these reasons and the decision making process. Most businesses have in place Employment Contracts and Employee Handbooks, which lets employees know what you expect of them in terms of workplace rules and regulations. An effective performance management procedure should also be in place, and the regular reviews conducted and documented will provide supporting evidence should poor performance result in the termination of an employment contract.

Communication – you must be sure that you are communicating openly throughout the whole process. This applies to the employee whose contract you are terminating, but also to the remaining staff who will be affected by the employee’s departure from your business.

Open communication means being transparent as to the reasons for the termination and responding promptly to any questions the employee may have. For the employees who remain, you could consider whether to hold a meeting to explain what has happened and what will follow; however, be mindful of the level of detail provided, as you do not want to find yourself in breach of GDPR.

Prepare for questions – When an employee faces termination of employment, they are likely to have a lot of questions, so be prepared for the kind of questions you may get asked. They may ask for a more detailed explanation about their performance, requiring specific examples and evidence, particularly if it is a performance related termination. They could ask about their notice period and if they are required to work it, when they receive their last paycheck, what will happen to their pension, the amount of holiday pay due to them, and whether they will receive a reference. It is important to respond in an accurate and timely fashion to such queries, as they could have a significant impact on the process, the individual and the organisation.

Return of equipment – Many businesses provide workplace materials and company property to their remote employees, often at great cost. Upon termination you need a plan in place to recover those items and ensure they are returned in the state expected. You will need to cover the costs for the employee to send back the equipment and a checklist to ensure the equipment is returned in good working condition.

Disconnect the employee from your system upon conclusion of the process – Once you have terminated an employee’s contract of employment, their access to your company data must be terminated too. Disconnect their access to key company servers and domains as soon as their termination is complete; you do not want them to have access to your customer or client data, or sensitive and confidential information. You should notify them of the disconnection in case they need to retrieve any personal files, so that you can monitor what is being accessed and retrieved.

It is also worth reminding the employee to update their social media profiles to reflect that they are no longer with your organisation and you may well need to seek the employee’s consent to continue using their images on your website or marketing collateral following their departure.

Terminating an employment contract will always throw up difficult questions and obstacles, however with the right preparations, the right attitude and support, the process need not be stressful, overly challenging or present a significant risk to your business.

MAD-HR can produce bespoke Employment Contracts and Employee Handbooks that reflect your organisation’s culture and values, as well as affording you peace of mind that you are legally and commercially protected. We can also support you and your management team with all aspects of performance management. Please give us a call today.