An exit interview scheduled after notifying the employee of the termination decision—preferably with a termination letter—can be an important deterrent to a wrongful termination action. Allowing the employee to discuss the termination with a company representative removed from the situation can give the employee the satisfaction of being “heard” and thereby reduce the risk of a lawsuit.
Employers who conduct exit interviews should consider the following guidelines:
- Have the interview conducted by someone other than the employee’s immediate supervisor, preferably someone unconnected to the termination decision, such as a human resources representative.
- The person conducting the interview should prepare for the meeting by reviewing the employee’s personnel file, including all documents pertaining to the termination.
- The person conducting the interview should describe the employee’s benefits, e.g., COBRA, vested pension or IRC 401(k) benefits, severance pay.
- The person conducting the interview should explain the type of reference that will be given.
- If the employee has signed an agreement promising not to disclose confidential company information or otherwise unfairly compete with the company, remind him or her of continuing obligations; if there’s no such agreement, and the employee has had access to proprietary information, prepare an appropriate agreement for signature by the employee.
- Deliver the final paycheck, including payment for all accrued unused vacation time.
- Give the individual an opportunity to comment on the job, the company, the supervisor, or the termination.
- Avoid any remarks that could be construed as discriminatory, such as comments related to age, race, sex, national origin, or disability.
- Conduct the interview in a polite, businesslike manner. Avoid expressing any opinion about the termination.
- Document all matters discussed with the employee, including any comments or opinions expressed by the employee about the termination.
- Avoid any action that might create the impression in other employees that the terminated employee was untrustworthy. For example, allow the employee to collect his or her personal belongings in private, not under the gaze of a security guard or supervisor. Allow the employee to leave the place of employment unescorted.
- If you are using a separation agreement, explain its terms and give the employee a written copy. Explain the time period for signing the agreement. If the employee is age 40 or older, make sure the agreement conforms to the requirements of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) (Pub L 101-433, 104 Stat 978).
Excellent advice for the entire discipline and termination process is in CEB’s Advising California Employers and Employees, chap 17. For an exit interview guide, check out Drafting Employment Documents for California Employers, chap 7.
Other CEB blog posts you may be interested in:
- Pay Me Back: Every Employer Should Have an Expense Reimbursement Policy
- Employers: Keep Clear of Social Media Landmines, Part 1
- Gagging Employees
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