Coronavirus has caused widespread business loss and uncertainty and, as a result, many HR departments are in the unfortunate position of enacting layoffs.
Terminating an employee is rarely easy, but the fact that many employees are working remotely adds another layer of difficulty to the process. When employers are forced to deliver the news through a phone or video call, it can be hard to balance the need to be forthright with the wish to be personable and kind.
This checklist will walk you through the necessary steps to remain compliant yet compassionate when offboarding a remote employee.
Step 1: Research compliance requirements.
The first step is fully understanding the labor laws surrounding termination in the employee’s location. These regulations vary by country and even state. In the US, most workers are employed “at will,” meaning that they may be terminated at any time with or without cause. In most other countries, however, employers must meet certain criteria before compliantly terminating employees. Many countries also require employers to provide prior notice or severance.
Step 2: Prepare the correct paperwork.
Ensure you have the necessary documentation in order beforehand. This may include the letter of termination, nondisclosure or noncompete agreements, and benefits documents that explain continuation of benefits, retirement plan transfer, final paycheck, vacation payout, unemployment insurance and more. Clear and comprehensive documentation will help avoid confusion and protect you from legal issues.
Step 3: Work with IT to revoke digital access.
Notify your IT department of the upcoming termination so that someone can immediately remove the remote employee’s computer access to company systems. You may need to change login and password information to any programs the employee used for their work. You’ll want to ensure there is no option for disgruntled employees to download sensitive company data or publicly air their grievances.
Step 4: Decide how and when you will terminate.
Without the ability to hold in-person meetings, employers may have more logistical considerations to make. Will you provide prior notice of upcoming staff reductions? Will you deliver the news to all impacted employees at once, or will you hold one-on-one meetings? Who will be present in the meetings? Even if it’s standard for an HR representative to deliver the news, including a direct manager in the meeting may be comforting, for both parties, especially while remote. Many companies have come under fire for what are perceived as impersonal and inconsiderate terminations during the pandemic, so carefully evaluate the specifics.
Step 5: Clearly communicate important information.
Be open when discussing next steps for pay, benefits, company property, outplacement support and more. Although emotions may run high, be clear and direct. Assure the employee that the details will be outlined and sent to them in a letter or email, so they don’t feel overwhelmed in the moment.
Step 6: Be as empathetic and personable as possible.
While it’s important to be forthright, remember that this is difficult news to hear, especially when it’s delivered remotely. Try to find a fair balance between candor and empathy, and don’t read from a script. Reassure the employee that it’s not a performance-related decision. Let the employee know how to follow up if they have questions. Offer to write reference letters to support the employee’s job search. That being said, if a direct manager is in the meeting, make sure they understand what can and cannot be said in order to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits.
Step 7: Recover company assets.
Make it easy for employees to send back any company property, such as computers and ID badges. Provide packaging, prepaid shipping labels, and instructions for how and by when they must mail the assets.
Step 8: Arrange for retrieval of personal property.
When an employee is terminated remotely, there isn’t the usual opportunity to clear out their desk of personal belongings. Work with the employee to make sure they receive these items. The employee could collect their belongings on a predetermined date, if there is a safe way to do this. Otherwise, ensure you have an accurate address to mail them.
Step 9: Comply with work visa regulations.
If the employee is on a temporary work visa, you may have to notify immigration services of the termination. For example, US employers must inform the US Citizenship and Immigration Services that there has been a “material change” when terminating H-1B visas. The employer also has to pay “reasonable costs of return transportation” to the employee.
Step 10: Address the concerns of your staff.
The remaining workforce may fear for their own jobs or grieve for the loss of a valued colleague. Be honest and transparent with your staff about the layoff and how business operations will move forward. Some employers provide counseling services if layoffs are widespread. Especially because employees may feel isolated while working remotely due to the pandemic, it’s important to give adequate support.
Your termination practices, especially during a time of heightened uncertainty, impact your company’s reputation and employer brand. Accurate and up-to-date labor law and compliance information will ensure your termination and offboarding process is both compliant and considerate, so your company can quickly rebound. Contact us here to learn more.
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Written by Annalisa Rodriguez