The Do's and Don’ts of Remote Firing

June 9, 2021
The Do's and Don’ts of Remote Firing

A larger proportion of the workplace — either due to lockdowns, company mitigation efforts, or standard operating procedures — are now remote workers. As this workforce has grown, so have i ts associated problems. Managing these workers can be challenging; when corrective measures fail, letting them go can present a new realm of issues for businesses. If it’s time to terminate a remote worker, you’ll need to do your standard separation prep work, but there will be a few added steps along the way. Unless the employee has engaged in an immediately terminable offense (think of the humiliating Zoom meeting fails that have hit the news recently), you’ll want to take time to get everything in order to make for the smoothest possible separation meeting.

Do: Plan ahead

It’s always a good idea to prepare and be ready for every contingency, and terminating an employee is no exception. If you don’t already have a termination checklist, use these points as your guide:

  • Termination notification letter — including effective dates and reason, if any, for the separation
  • Employee property/equipment checklist — materials, tools, etc., that will need to be returned
  • Online access checklist
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), accrued pay, and insurance continuation of coverage notification
  • Severance pay notification and contract, if applicable

Don’t: Wing it

The last thing you want to do is come to the meeting unprepared. Having your materials ready not only assures you are able to answer any relevant questions, they help you keep the meeting on track and tight. A typical termination meeting should last about 15 to 20 minutes; any longer, and you’re wasting their time and yours.

Do: Explain

Employees have a right to know why you're terminating them. A best practice is to make sure the employee isn’t surprised when it happens. If the staffer is being let go for cause, such as tardiness, performance, etc., there should have been several meetings and attempts to correct the behavior or mistakes. The employee should be well aware that their failure to do so is resulting in their separation. If there was a serious infraction that results in immediate termination — without notice — the employee should know that policy as well. Staff members should be well-versed in your policies, particularly those that warrant immediate separation. Your staff should know that threatening others, theft, violation of safety protocols, or the rare but long-term gossip-inducing Zoom indiscretion, is cause for you to fire them without notice. If there is no cause, simply say so. If the downsizing is due to financial constraints or economic conditions, let the staff member know the situation was beyond their control.

Don’t: Negotiate

Assuming the employee has had sufficient warning or information that led to the separation, your role in the termination meeting isn’t to renegotiate. The decision should be final when you walk into the meeting: nothing they say should change your mind. Unless they can provide legitimate proof that they weren’t at fault, don’t allow the session to turn into tears, recriminations, and pleas. There’s no dignity in making someone beg. Keep the meeting short, professional, on topic and non-negotiable.

Do: Plan for equipment retrieval

If the employee has company tools, including phones, laptops, badges, etc., request they return them at the meeting, but make sure the staff member has the ability to do so. Send a prepaid package label (and boxes if the equipment is very large) immediately after the meeting to assure they can get the equipment back to you. For some companies, any final payouts — including payable sick, vacation, or personal time — may be contingent on the employee returning company property. The faster you can get them the mailing information, the faster they can return the materials.

Don’t: Make it harder to comply

You should already have an equipment checklist for each employee that outlines what company property they hold. Make sure to discuss the checklist and send a copy to the staff member so they can put together all the items for shipping. Even if the remote worker lives nearby, and is planning on bringing in the materials, the checklist will help them put everything together for a single drop-off and easier cooperation.

Do: Disable passwords

Your online access list should provide what databases, email addresses, social media accounts, and other links that will need to be disabled. Notify your IT Department after the meeting these should be closed out immediately.

Don’t: Use the honor system

It’s rare, but possible, that upset employees with access to databases and media accounts will vent anger and frustration over being let go. Don’t delay in closing their accounts, and don’t allow staff members to make excuses regarding continuing access. Some may suggest they have outstanding work that needs to be finalized. While you appreciate the offer, let them know someone else will pick up from where they left off, but that you will contact them directly if there are any questions.

Do: Provide legal notification(s)

If the employee and/or their dependents had healthcare coverage under the company’s plan, you legally must provide COBRA notice on separation that details how they can continue their coverage at their own expense. There are standard COBRA notification letters that cover medical benefits available. Other coverage continuation, like dental and vision insurance, is also necessary.

If your company pays out sick, vacation, or personal time that staff don't use, provide the employee with guidance on what is in their bank and they will receive the pay (typically with the last paycheck). In some states sick payouts are required by law, but payment of unused personal or vacation time is not. Check with your local Department of Labor to assure you’re in compliance with whatever your state requires.

Don’t: Make it hard to continue to pay

Your COBRA information should include detailed information on the way to keep coverage(s) active. Let the employee know:

  • What the cost will be
  • Where to mail the check
  • When it must be received (monthly) to continue coverage
  • What, if any, notifications will be sent in the event of late payments, and
  • How long after non-receipt of payment the employee’s benefits will be permanently terminated

Your job is not to chase ex-employees down monthly for their payment, but you must clearly outline their responsibility for the cost and making the payments on time, every month.

Do: Provide severance details, if applicable

Some companies offer severance pay to workers, depending on the circumstances of the separation. For most, the package includes a contract (sometimes written on the back of the check) outlining that by accepting the payment, the employee waives their right to sue the company after being let go. Severance packages vary, from weeks’ to years’ worth of pay, based on the employee, length of service, and reason for separation.

Don’t: Violate worker rights

Severance packages can be complicated and some even violate the law. In some states, employers may not offer severance in exchange for the employee agreeing not to file a claim of sexual harassment or discrimination. Make sure to check with your local Department of Labor to assure any agreement you plan to use is in compliance.

Do: Handle sudden separations with dignity

While adult behavior on Zoom has hit the headlines too often of late, these incidents (and other egregious behavior) warrant immediate action. If something comes to light that might require immediate action, it’s a best practice to enact a suspension — allowing you time to investigate. If a termination is necessary, then do so privately and quickly. Remember that while other employees will likely know the reason the employee is no longer on staff, don’t discuss the termination with anyone other than their immediate supervisor, and even then, only privately.

Don’t: Make it public

Temptation may be to terminate immediately when you witness an infraction (like an employee threatening another in an online meeting), but remember privacy is key. In that scenario, remove the employee from the meeting immediately and ask them to meet with you separately. You may need to have them sign off for the remainder of the day so you can investigate, if you can’t abandon the meeting yourself. If an investigation is warranted (to review a recording you didn’t witness, for example) ask the employee to not log back into work until the investigation process is complete. Then, if termination is necessary, do so individually — never in front of coworkers. Terminating an employee is never easy for the business or staff member. The challenge is to make the process as quick and painless as possible. Don’t drag out the process, either online or in person. A short meeting, outlining the reason, the employee’s rights under the law, and any payments the company plans to make is all that’s necessary.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

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