Volume 19, Number 1
January/February 2002

Handling the Discharge Session

Never discharge an employee in a fit of anger. Although a discharge session is never pleasant, be sure the process is calm and businesslike. Administrative details such as the final paycheck, additional checks for accrued but unused benefits, COBRA notices, and the like should be prepared in advance of the meeting. Final separation agreements and releases should be available as well.

Prepare a brief written outline of the points you wish to cover in the meeting, and have a witness present during the discharge session. The witness can later corroborate any statements made during the meeting, if necessary.

During the discharge interview, briefly discuss the reasons for the discharge, but do not limit yourself to only these reasons. State that the reasons "include the following...." This can be helpful if the discharge is later challenged.

Never encourage an employee to think that you might change your mind. Based on the investigation and preparation, you should, by this point, be satisfied that discharge is the only option.

Be sure to address business details. The status and transition of files assigned to the employee, return of employer property, and available separation options (e.g., resignation) should be covered.

Separation agreements should not make false statements to induce the employee to sign the agreement. Give the employee a reasonable length of time to study the agreement, consult with legal counsel, and respond. For example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act requires that employees have 21 days to consider agreements that waive age claims.

After the discharge interview, immediately document what was said, especially any admissions by the employee. Have the witness do the same. Do not tell other staff that the employee was fired or the reasons why. State only that the employee is no longer working for your firm and that you wish the employee well in future endeavors. This will afford the discharged employee dignity in departure and the ability to elect any separation option offered by the firm.

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