April 4, 2023
The following is excerpted from an article courtesy of Cec Brown Associates Inc., which specializes in career management and career transition services.
Most employers believe that a dismissed employee should leave the premises immediately, surrendering all keys and access cards. The major reason given is that it prevents the departing employee from doing damage to the employer’s property or personnel, either immediately or later. If the employee is not up to clearing out personal effects at the time of dismissal, arrangements may be made to return after hours on another day, usually under some form of supervision.
Naturally, dismissed employees describe this sort of hasty departure as the most disturbing aspect of the termination. The requirement to leave the premises immediately is seen as the employer’s mistrust of the staffer’s honesty and professionalism. The ultimate indignity is delivered where the person is told to clear out personal effects under supervision, and is then escorted out of the building by a company official, outplacement consultant or even a security guard. This doesn’t leave dismissed individuals with much consolation at a time when the very core of their confidence and dignity is being threatened.
In most cases, this scenario is not due to a manager actively wanting to be insensitive to the departing employee. On the contrary, most employers sincerely want to handle the situation with as much dignity and respect for the individual as possible. However, the “immediate departure model” has become so ingrained that few employers even question it.
EMPLOYEES TEND TO ACT PROFESSIONALLY
In our experience, the over-whelming majority of employees will react as professionally as the employer permits. In the many cases where the employer has accepted our recommendation for a softer departure, none has resulted in damage to people or property. Every situation should be assessed on its own merits. However, employees who have given you no reason to question their professionalism in the past should be considered for a soft departure. Those who have been unprofessional should be considered for an immediate departure—theft, subordination, breach of security or safety, etc. (But be careful here. The courts may not agree with you.)
Many employers have found that the advantages of a soft departure far outweigh the small risk of the person doing damage to people or property. It is equally rare for the departing employee to create a scene. A soft departure gives the individual some choice and control, which is very welcome at the time of dismissal. It allows employees to maintain dignity and to finish off professionally, if they choose to do so. The majority of people will be completely professional, if permitted to be.
HOW TO POSITION A SOFT DEPARTURE
All of the usual good HR practices—such as planning carefully, conducting the dismissal early in the week, late in the day, in a private location, conveyed by a brief message, etc.—should be followed. (For a complete planning checklist, please call one of our offices.)
Following the initial dismissal message, say essentially, “You are welcome to leave now. However, if you wish to tidy up anything over the next few days, you are also welcome to do so.” The key here is a few days, not a long period. In our experience, most people will choose to leave immediately.
This also can be used effectively in larger scale terminations, but might take a slightly different form: “For today, will you please leave immediately, since a number of other people are also being informed. This is very difficult for everybody, and it will help to reduce any awkwardness for you and other people. You are welcome to return tomorrow, if you choose to tidy up anything over the next few days.”
Ideally, the person should be left with keys, building access, credit and telephone cards, parking pass, etc., for the few days, although you need to exercise some judgment here. The fear that the disgruntled ex-employee will somehow do irretrievable damage is countered by the fact that the greatest majority will not do so. In most cases, there is little that can be done by an ex-employee that is irretrievable. Those who are inclined to take clients lists or other information have probably already done so. (There is also legal recourse if they do.)
If you are really concerned about networked computers, you could schedule the termination at a time of regular backup or shutdown maintenance. Some systems allow you to set restricted access to parts of the system. It also should not be necessary to immediately cut off the person’s email or voice mail. There is little that an ex-employee can do with email or voice mail that wouldn’t be a greater negative reflection on themselves than to do any real harm to the employer.
On considering the soft departure, ask yourself, “How would I want to be treated if I was dismissed from my job? What is the real downside? What could the individual actually do that is irretrievable?” Sure, you will have to accept some risk and maybe some additional discomfort. But in general practice the soft departure works very well. The best guide as to how the person will react to a dismissal is how professional and honest he or she has been in the past. Most people will react to a dismissal in much the same way that they have handled themselves on the job.
THERE’S A GOOD LEGAL REASON TO BE SENSITIVE
Another very practical reason to consider the softer departure is found in a Supreme Court of Canada Judgment—Wallace v. United Grain Growers. Lawyers refer to this as a landmark case that opens the door for substantial penalties to employers beyond normal severance based on how the termination is done. The individual may now receive “increased damages for injuries such as humiliation, embarrassment and damage to one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem.” Justice Iacobucci wrote, “The obligation of good faith and fair dealing is incapable of precise definition: However, at a minimum, I believe that in the course of dismissal employers ought to be candid, reasonable, honest and forthright with their employees and should refrain from engaging in conduct that is unfair and is in bad faith by being, for example, untruthful, misleading, or unduly insensitive.”
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