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What is HR's Role in Employee Termination?

What is HR's Role in Employee Termination?

Louise Kursmark,

April 07, 2009

When it comes to terminating employees, HR can help shape the process, guide the conversation and minimize potential damage to both company and employee. But it can’t assume the responsibility nor make the task pleasant for anyone involved.

Still, “HR should always be a significant part of any termination in any company,” says Amy Schrameck, regional director of human resources for a large retail company. HR provides checks and balances, ensures company policy and procedures are followed and, often working with the legal department, makes sure all actions conform to legal guidelines.

Jeanne Knight, a former HR director for high tech companies, prefers to become involved before termination becomes necessary. “Through proactive coaching and training with managers, we can help them understand that they shouldn’t get to the point where they want to fire the person ‘today,’” she says. “If they come to us when they first suspect a problem, we can help them manage the process” that can lead to improved performance or create a well-documented path toward termination.

Your Company’s Culture Determines HR’s Involvement

At companies where HR is seen as strategically partnered with executives and business lines, it’s common for HR to be called in early to help shape the discussions and steer the actions. These companies also typically have a well-defined process for performance reviews and employee termination. At other companies, HR may have to be more assertive about becoming involved, developing a track record and building trust to prove your value in this process.

Help Managers Have Clear Conversations

According to Knight, a career coach in Melrose, Massachusetts, a key HR role is helping managers have clear, forthright performance conversations with employees. “Managers don’t like having those conversations,” she says. “They’re uncomfortable, and that can result in lack of clarity.”

HR can help the manager clearly define goals, objectives and performance expectations and might provide wording. HR also can follow up to make sure the employee clearly understands expectations and next steps.

Clear communication, a well-documented process and early HR support for managers can eliminate the firing surprise factor for employees. “The worst thing that can happen is that an employee is shocked by being fired,” says Knight. “That’s when you have lawsuits.”

Adds Schrameck, “In fact, we find that employees ultimately terminate themselves, because they don’t change their behaviors or improve their performance.”

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