Part 1: Checklist to Follow Before Making a Decision to Terminate an Employee

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Terminating an employee is one aspect of business ownership and management that may not be avoidable. It is important for employers to have a comprehensive and easy-to-follow checklist in place to assist them in making this process go as smoothly as possible. A checklist may also limit the employer’s legal risk. This post discusses what items should be on a business owner’s checklist when employee termination is necessary.

Clear and Intentional Process Is Key

Above all, the process leading up to an employee’s termination should be systematic and intentional. Firing an employee can be emotional. It’s important to make sure termination is the very last step in a fair and thoughtful process. When an employee is finally let go, it should not come as a surprise to the employee. Below are four steps employers should take leading up to the termination talk.

Step 1: Document everything.

It is essential that business owners document all information that may be related to an employee’s termination. Yes, documenting is time-consuming; however, it is important to have a record of all the relevant facts in place before a termination occurs. This record serves as evidence for the employer to point to as cause for dismissal.

Step 2: Communicate expectations.

Clear communication on job expectations is imperative. If there is a written job description, make sure the employee has it and knows exactly what is expected of him/her in that role. If there is not a written job description, write one, and make sure your employee reads it. Don’t leave room for any assumptions when it comes to job responsibility.

Also, be sure to have a process for performance review and for any needed discipline in place and clearly communicate that to your employee. Make sure the employee understands the disciplinary process you are using if that becomes necessary.

Step 3: Provide feedback.

If an employee is failing to meet job expectations, the employer should provide that feedback to the employee. This can be done formally or informally. Either way, it’s best for the employer to provide this feedback as soon as it becomes an issue. This gives notice to the employee that the current level of job production is not satisfactory and offers the opportunity to take corrective action and save the job.

Step 4: Put an improvement plan in place.

Following employer feedback, should an employee continue to fail to meet job expectations, the next step is to meet with the employee and put an improvement plan in place. An employer may choose to skip this step, but it is often not advisable. Exceptions to using this step may occur if the employee has committed some serious violation, such as misuse of funds or significant sexual harassment, that calls for immediate termination once the offense is established. Usually, the best way to protect the business is for an employer to be deliberate and careful about providing opportunities for an employee to meet his or her job expectations. This improvement plan should be in writing and detailed. It should identify the problem and set out specific goals. This plan should also clearly set out the consequences for failure to improve, namely termination.


Sometimes termination is unavoidable; however, following the above outlined best practices before making a decision to terminate may go a long way in protecting businesses from unnecessary legal risk. To determine whether your business practices related to termination are in line with federal and local laws it is also a good idea to consult with legal counsel. In addition, legal counsel can help you evaluate whether each of the steps you take or plan to take is sensible and measured. Proactive attention to this process will make decisions around employee termination manageable, fair, and straightforward. In the next post, we will discuss how to implement the termination decision that you have made.

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations