There are a couple ways employees leave employers; typically, they resign or their employment is terminated. These two things can happen very differently. They can be amicable and of no threat to the employer or they can be hasty and sometimes handled in a nasty manner (by either side). We offer suggestions on how to best handle these (sometimes sticky) situations.
1. Document, document, document. Ensure that your process is documented on the way you or your team handle the closure of accounts and fully execute your process upon termination. This includes not only their email and voicemail access, but also logins to your clients’ confidential information. For example, working for a digital marketing firm, our employees had logins to our clients’ social media accounts. This could have posed a severe threat if this was a termination of employment or even an unhappy employee leaving on their own accord. Ensure that your exit checklist includes notification to the right teams to get access turned off quickly. Employees may also have access to your [employer] files on Dropbox, through LogMeIn, VPN, or other remote access to the employer’s servers from home computers. Not only is proper and quick termination of access necessary but you should also consider having employees sign an acknowledgement upon hiring as to who owns accounts, access, and work product, and that rights and access will cease immediately upon termination.
2. Retrieving company and personal belongings. Typically, this is also part of an employer’s exit checklist: “Retrieve computer, ID badge and keycard”. Depending on the situation, you may need to ask for these items immediately, or you may schedule time for that employee to come back after hours and collect their personal affects. Or, you may be able to let them work out their notice and if you’re not concerned, collect company items on their last day. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to always, always, be professional and empathetic in these situations. Statements made in the heat of the moment may come back to haunt you, and you never know who you’ll run into later in your professional life. A positive exit interaction can smooth ruffled feathers and may avoid future claims. I had a former employee tell me years later that the way I handled her termination of employment was one of the best HR exit interactions she had in her career. We had to meet with her at the end of a long workday and let her go. Her manager remained professional and because we were concerned about her taking company documents, I remained near her as she cleaned out her desk. What could have been a very awkward interaction, was in fact not. She later told me that she appreciated how calmly and coolly I stood nearby, but didn’t make a scene.
3. The dreaded exit interview. If your HR team and your managers are doing their jobs, you should have some idea as to why the employee is leaving. If not, this should be an important to discuss the employee’s reasons for leaving. In my experience, the last day is full of farewell lunches and most head out the door prior to Happy Hour. It’s best to schedule this as soon as the employee has given notice, they’re more likely to give you the full story as to why they’ve decided to pursue other opportunities. From a legal perspective, it often helps to maintain written records of the reason for termination/departure. If you have a written policy or process for exit interviews, always follow your procedures before, during, and after handling employee interactions. If not, it may just be time to get that written. SHRM.org has a plethora of ideas for you in their Termination Toolkit. As always, if you have questions, check with your HR team and/or your legal counsel.
What’s the most complicated exit you’ve been involved in, and how did you handle it?