This Way to the Exit: Using the Exit Interview to Support Terminations

I think there is a fairly widespread misunderstanding as to the best way for small businesses to conduct exit interviews. There seems to be a feeling that you must meet with the terminated employee in person like they do in the movies. This can easily turn into a disaster!

Remember, in the movies the HR person is not the employer, nor are they connected to the situation – so it’s a lot easier for them to be impartial and remain in control. But there is another way for small businesses and medical practices to get this final interview done effectively. Here’s how making exit interviews a part of your normal routine can help protect you during the termination or end-of-employment process.

As a bonus, we’ve also included a link to our FREE downloadable Employer Tool Kit at the end of this blog, where you can get the exit interview form we use and recommend, tips for using it, plus more essential employment forms, guidance, and resources (hundreds of dollars in value) all at no cost to you.

Do you really need to do exit interviews for terminations? Even if you’ve already heard the ex-employee’s opinions?

If your HR system can support it, you absolutely want the advantage of having asked all departing employees to fill out and send back a properly written exit interview form. And here’s why. When consulted about traumatic terminations, on more than one occasion I’ve been able to use the exit interview form to help our clients and their attorneys effectively end a dispute.

Here’s an example: Imagine an exit interview that comes back as three hand-written pages of pure ranting. Do you think this written evidence would support a termination in which the employee was let go for not being able to accept constructive guidance and not acknowledging their corrective action? It did.

In this particular case, the ex-employee’s attorney sent a letter containing various frivolous allegations, to which our client’s attorney was able to respond with the corrective action documentation and the ex-employee’s exit interview, which read like a manifesto. The result was not a single peep further from the ex-employee. While it’s rarely that simple or clean, without that exit interview having been returned in that self-addressed stamped envelope, who knows how a situation like this one might escalate.

Aside from helping you shut down frivolous disputes, the exit interview form serves a variety of useful purposes:

  • It serves as the employee’s “story” at the time of departure – their perception of what happened. And if they file any future complaint containing a new or conflicting story, it can be a valuable written record for you, in the employee’s own words.
  • It can provide useful information to you as an employer and manager. An ex-employee who is no longer under the constraints of keeping their job may actually inform you of some significant, or possibly new, problem within your systems or staff.
  • A departing employee may allude to improprieties or make direct accusations against the business or another employee. TAKE THIS VERY SERIOUSLY. At the very least, you need to investigate internally. Record the actions you took to investigate, as well as any responsive actions you took to address or correct any issues uncovered.

Even if the departing employee is unhappy and you are not sure how they will respond to their exit interview, the fact that you took the time to ask speaks volumes for your “willingness and need to know,” and can help you defend yourself if any complaints should escalate. And if the ex-employee fails to return the form, you’ll have the record that you tried – which is valuable evidence of your fair and consistent actions as an employer, owner, and/or manager.

Note that everything discussed above is general guidance, and specific situations can require that you consult with your favorite attorney or HR expert. Give us a call at 866-414-6056 if you have a question – CEDR’s HR experts will help doctors or their managers solve one issue for free!

Apr 10, 2014

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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