Am I required to give a termination letter to any employees I let go?
The legal side of things: We’re starting strong with one of our most used phrases: it depends on the state.
While many states don’t require that you provide employees with an official separation letter, some do. Before you terminate someone without giving them any documentation, check your state’s law. Or better yet, talk to an HR expert for a full risk assessment, and we’ll also take care of the paperwork for you.
Now for the human approach:Just because it’s not legally required doesn’t mean you should skip it. Regardless of what your state’s law says, our advice is to always provide a termination letter at the time of separation.
We talk a lot about the importance of documentation, and this situation is no different. The purpose of a termination letter is to document the reasons for departure if there are questions after the fact. This could mean something as simple as unemployment to something major - like a lawsuit on behalf of the terminated employee. It also serves to let the employee know what to do with company property and inform them about final pay and health insurance.
In any case, having the termination letter on file and a record showing that you gave the letter to the employee is a key way to protect your business.
Remember, all terminations carry some level of risk, and it’s important to make sure you’re taking the right steps when letting someone go.Our separation guide can help walk you through the process.
What’s the deal with exit interviews? Should all employees that leave my business do one?
The legal side of things: There are no legal requirements surrounding exit interviews. Whether the employee is leaving by choice or you’re terminating their employment, the exit interview is completely voluntary.
However, CEDR has always highly recommended providing the departing employee with an exit interview form, requesting that they fill it out and return it to you after they’ve left. This accomplishes two key things.
First, employees are more likely to provide honest feedback if they aren’t put on the spot during an in-person meeting. Putting it in writing once they’ve left removes some of that discomfort.
Second, and key to the legal side of things, as an employer, you can’t fix a problem you aren’t aware of. CEDR members have language built into their Employee Handbooks about bringing any concerns to management's attention. If an employee tries to bring a claim against you, you, as the employer, can use that Employee Concern Reporting policy in your defense. You gave an avenue for the employee to report the problem, but they didn’t do so. How were you ever supposed to fix a problem you did not know of?
The exit interview form does the same thing. When a former employee brings a claim, you can also point out that you directly asked them to report any problems to you. And even after they left and would have no fear of retaliation, they still didn’t tell you about it. That blank, unreturned exit interview form is another piece of evidence in your defense.
Now for the human approach:Departing employees aren’t required to participate in an exit interview, but giving them the opportunity to do so can help provide you with lots of helpful information. It’s an important part of the separation process whether the employee says good or bad things.
For starters, exit interviews can help you spot legal problems. The benefit of this is self-explanatory. The sooner you spot an issue that might pose a legal risk, the better.
They can also help point out trends that might be impacting retention in your workplace. If multiple people mention the office manager’s negative attitude as a reason for leaving or say that the lack of organization at the front desk made their job difficult, it gives you insight into things you may need to address.
In today’s market with high turnover rates and post-covid challenges, this information can be particularly useful. Some of the feedback you get might be fueled by negative emotions, so remember to take things with a grain of salt.
Not all employees are going to want to fill an exit interview out, and that’s okay. You can’t force them to do it, but offering it to them shows you attempted to get their side of things on their way out.
Is terminating someone during their first 90 days risk-free? They’re still in the getting acquainted period, and I can tell they won’t be a good fit.
The legal side of things: No termination is completely risk-free. That said, 49 of 50 states are at-will, which means you can end employment at any time as long as there is no unlawful reason. This applies at any point of the employee’s time there, be it day 1 or day 200.
From a legal perspective, the first thing we would ask in the Solution Center is what the reason for terminating is. If you want to terminate because you found out after their start date that they’re pregnant and you don’t want to keep them on only to give them maternity leave in a few months, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve worked there - this would be an extremely high-risk termination.
It also depends on whether or not the employee engaged in any protected activity while working for you. There may be certain legal protections that come into play if so.
Now for the human approach:One of the main reasons for having a getting acquainted period is to deal with the learning curve of starting a new job. Have you addressed the issues you’re seeing with the employee or given them any coaching?
Some issues can’t be solved, but employers often see improvement after sitting down and talking with the employee about what’s going wrong and how they can fix it. This can save you the headache of going through the hiring process again and keep things running smoothly for the office in general.
Even if you end up terminating anyway, documenting your willingness to work with the employee before terminating also gives you an added layer of protection down the line.