Small and larger business owners need to make difficult decisions everyday: acquire new clients, build relationships with interested stakeholders, pay invoices, redefine their brand and ensure staff are completing all assigned tasks. Given that an employer-employee relationship evolves over time, managers sometimes must make the difficult decision of terminating a person’s employment. There is no perfect way to dismiss an employee but there are some things managers should simply not do when letting an employee go.
Mislead Employees About their Rights
The Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000, S.O. 2000, c. 41, is meant to protect both employers and employees alike. While management can certainly put an end to the employer-employee relationship, it has a duty to remain honest to the employee. Employers should never misinform employees about the amount of money they are entitled to under the Act.
An employee is entitled to notice of termination if he or she has been continuously employed for at least three months. Rather than giving an employee notice, employers can also pay termination pay. The amount of notice to give to an employee depends on the period of employment of that person. More information on the required notice can be found here
If an employee has specific questions about their rights and amount of notice they are entitled to, it is good practice for employers to encourage employees to seek independent legal advice on the matter.
Force the Employee to Sign a Release the Day of Termination
Whether employees choose to exercise their right to get legal advice, employers should always make sure employees have had reasonable time to review their termination package. Particularly because managers are in a position of power, in order for any signed release to remain binding and enforceable, it is beneficial not to rush the process of termination. There will always be time to sign a release at a later date. Releases signed under pressure may be set aside in certain circumstances by courts.
Prevent an Employee From Retrieving Personal Belongings
When an employee finds out they have just been fired, they generally feel very vulnerable. Expect them to be emotional, argumentative and sometimes even irrational. Whatever you do, do not add fuel to the fire. Keep the meeting short and brief. Know exactly what you are going to say, invite only those who need to be present and always make sure you have done the necessary steps to protect sensitive information.
This may entail coordinating with your IT department to disconnect any digital access the employee has to certain databases, store files away and changing certain codes or passwords. While it is important to make sure that any client or third-party file be kept safe, it is bad practice to give the employee the walk of shame by having a security guard escort them out of the building in front of other employees. The employee is already hurting from the employer’s decision, let them keep their dignity. Allow them to retrieve their personal belongings after work hours when most staff have left them office.
It is however reasonable to ask for them to return any keys, cards or parking pass to reduce access to the building. If the employee was provided with a business credit card, make the necessary arrangements to have the card returned and contact your financial institution right away to inform them the employee in question no longer has authorization to make any transactions on the business’ behalf.
Discuss the Termination With Others
Many people in businesses, especially larger ones, enjoy gossiping – that includes those in management positions too! As tempting as it is to discuss an employee’s termination with others, resist the urge. As an employer, if you decide to dismiss an employee, it is safer to send a brief general e-mail letting others know that the terminated employee will no longer be with your business. Leave any other details out. If employees ask questions, respectfully decline to comment. Also avoid discussing these matters outside the workplace. It generally makes the employer look worse than the employee. In the worst of scenarios, this may entice a disgruntled employee to commence a lawsuit for defamation against you.
Karen Kernisant is a lawyer at Aubry Campbell MacLean and practices Employment and Family Law as well as Civil Litigation.