Six things to consider before you terminate an employee

If you are a very fortunate employer, you may never have to terminate an employee. For most businesses though, things happen that require termination of employment. If you find yourself need to terminate an employee, consider the six guidelines listed before you terminate:

1. Severance. If you are going to pay severance and the employee is not already entitled to receive severance, you need to require the employee to sign a release in exchange for the severance. The release is the employee’s acknowledgment that he is giving up all claims against the company in exchange for a severance payment to which he would not have been entitled. This type of document provides some finality and protection for the company.

2. Contract Limitations. Determine if there are any obligations or rights that the employee has that would prevent you from terminating his employment in the manner in which you wish to do it. For instance, is there a written employment contract involved with this person? Has your company given the person any kind of rights through an employee policy manual or handbook? Is the employee currently experiencing any kind of issues such as a work-related injury that would make termination either unwise or illegal?

3. Equipment. Be certain before you inform the employee of termination that you either have all of the property back that the employee is using or you have a clear plan to get all of it back. Occasionally, I have seen employees who are terminated and upset about the situation take out their frustration by not returning employer equipment or making it very difficult for the employer to secure return. If you are going to ask for release, you might consider adding a line that says in exchange for the severance they have returned all equipment to the company.

4. Witness. When you actually inform the employee that he is being terminated, it is wise to have another person with you who can corroborate what actually happens if there is any kind of dispute.

5. Benefits. Does the company owe this employee any kind of accrued benefits such as PTO or vacation time? Sometimes, depending on the written documents or policy manual, the employee may have a right to receive this type of benefit upon termination. However, if there is no documentation promising the employee that he is entitled to receive the benefits, the company probably has no obligation to pay.

6. Cause for termination. Be careful how you express the cause for termination to the employee. Most employers I work with are good people and don’t want to go out of their way to make the employee feel bad. However, if you tell an employee they are being let go because there simply is not enough work and the reason is actually that the employee cannot do the work that you need, you are probably stuck with the stuck reason given. It is better to give no reason at all for termination rather than a reason not supported by the facts. This could come up in unemployment proceeding with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission or other post-employment proceedings. Unemployment cannot be waived but if there is a solid reason for termination related to some type of misconduct then there may be a basis to challenge in the award of unemployment.

If you need help on any of these issues when doing an Oklahoma employment termination, this is something I have a lot of experience with, please contact me.

Shawn Roberts

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I write about and try to answer practical Oklahoma legal questions. I tend to focus on estate planning and business issues. I make a living as an attorney working for Resolution Legal Group in Oklahoma City. I am husband to Amy and the father of Sam and David. We live exactly in the path where the "wind comes sweeping down the plains."

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  1. What are steps employers can take to protect themselves from employment law claims? - September 6, 2012

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