The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the business landscape forever. Alongside the myriad other challenges companies are facing, HR representatives have a uniquely difficult task to tackle: terminating employees remotely.
Terminating an employee under any circumstance is an uncomfortable and sometimes nasty affair. It’s one thing to tell an employee to their face that they need to pack up; in that scenario, HR has significantly more control over the conversation and environment. Terminating an employee remotely, on the other hand, is much harder to handle for even the most skilled HR pros.
Here are six things you need to be aware of when terminating a remote employee:
1. There’s a Time and a Place
Layoffs are happening everywhere and in every industry. Startups have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and many have been forced to let employees go due to drastic decreases in income rather than performance issues.
As with terminating an employee in person, there’s a right time and place to do so remotely. Rather than unceremoniously springing termination on an unsuspecting employee, any smart (and kind) HR pro or manager will set up a formal meeting to handle the termination with grace and dignity. Schedule an official video exit interview just as you would schedule an in-person one.
Create a timeline for the employee’s departure and give them time to set their affairs in order before they go. This will go a long way in maintaining respect and professionalism between both the HR rep and the employee. Additionally, be sure to schedule the meeting at a time that works for all involved parties. In a remote work arrangement, that may mean accounting for time zone differences.
2. Communicate Openly
While there are many advantages to working remotely, ease of communication is not one of them. Nonetheless, when firing a remote employee, you must be sure to communicate openly throughout the entire process. This applies to communication with both the employee you are terminating and other employees who will be affected by the departing employee’s absence.
When it comes to the employee you are terminating, open communication often means being transparent about the reasons for termination and responding to the employee’s questions promptly. It’s also important to keep things positive if possible. For example, you could talk with the departing employee about how their experience at your company might improve their career prospects elsewhere.
When it comes to the employees who remain, consider sending out an email or holding a small meeting to explain what happened (without getting into too much detail, of course). Answer questions and reassure the employees who remain. Open communication is a cornerstone of all HR work, and that includes remote termination.
3. Prepare for Questions
Any time an employee is terminated, they’re likely to have questions. For instance, they might ask about severance packages and last paychecks, or they might ask for more specific feedback about their performance and the driving factors behind their termination. It’s easy for employee questions to fall through the cracks in remote communication, so it’s important to intentionally create space for your terminated employee to ask whatever questions they may have.
The HR rep and/or manager handling the termination should prepare for possible questions ahead of time. Create a document for your own reference that includes all the specific details your terminated employee is likely to request. This is important for legal reasons — you always need to dot your i’s and cross your t’s to avoid a lawsuit — but it’s also a way to ensure the termination doesn’t cause any bad blood. Employees know that companies are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic and being forced to fire loyal workers to save money. Explaining the situation and being forthcoming with information will show the employee there’s no ill will — which is doubly important if you plan to rehire the employee in the future when things turn around.
4. Keep Relevant Laws and Regulations in Mind
Another unique aspect of firing someone working remotely is that you have to be aware of the laws governing employee termination in their location, which may be different from the relevant laws in the location of your company’s headquarters.
Violating any of the laws in your employee’s location can open your company up to a lawsuit, so before carrying out a termination, look into the relevant laws. Those might include rules abut when termination can take place and what type of notice you need to offer.
5. Work Out a Plan to Return or Retrieve Materials
Many employers provide workplace materials and company property to their remote employees. If you have to fire a remote employee, you need a plan in place to recover those materials.
If it’s an amicable firing, the employee should be able to mail the materials back to you. Cover the cost of the shipping so they don’t have to pay for anything. If it’s not an amicable firing, you may need to get law enforcement involved.
Try to plan for various scenarios. That way, no matter how the employee responds, you can begin retrieving company property as soon as possible….