Employee Termination Checklist: How to Make Sure You’re Saying Goodbye the Right Way

September 20, 2018

Utilizing an employee termination checklist can save you from common mistakes during terminations. Learn the do's, don'ts, and preventative measures.

employee termination checklist cover 1

“Everything you own in the box to the left… to the left, to the left…” Perhaps if Queen Bey was everyone’s employer, we’d all be a little clearer on the necessary steps for terminating employees. Since Beyoncé has so much on her plate, however, it’s nice to have an employee termination checklist. Make sure you’ve done your due diligence when an employee is leaving the company and develop a system.

Employee Termination Checklist Image 3It might seem like the most difficult parts in the termination process would be helping the employee pack, and then carrying those heavy boxes to his/her car. There are actually a number of steps in the process that require more attention than just the physical work. To cover everything involved, we’ve created an employee termination checklist.

You can make the process easier on yourself by becoming familiar with the termination process so that when the time comes (which it will—human resource studies show that the average employee turnover rate for companies is around 19%) you will be ready for action.

Leaving, fired, or laid off

While the word “termination” sounds ominous and foreboding, terminating an employee isn’t necessarily always a negative thing. There are actually different ways an employee will leave a company.

Some employees leave their place of employment for a job with another company (also called resigning). Employees will leave for another company if they have maxed out the pay scale for their position or have no other possible promotions. Maybe their role changed and they found something elsewhere better suited for their skills.

Some employees have life circumstances that cause them to move to a different city, state, or even country.

Firing for any number of reasons (misconduct, fraud, stealing, performance, insubordination, etc.) would be another reason for termination.

Companies going through buyouts or layoffs could also cause employee terminations. Finally, employees who retire become terminated employees.  Long story short, the termination process simply means that an employee’s status is changing from active to terminated.

You must not know ‘bout me.

One of the first things to remember when terminating an employee is that regardless of reason, it is not appropriate to suddenly pretend that employee never existed. Thanking the employee for their contribution and wishing them well can help ease that awkward tension while formalities are taking place.

When appropriate, it’s also a nice gesture to offer letters of recommendation for employees that have done an exceptional job. Leaving doesn’t have to result in a burned bridge.

In fact, nothing kills employee morale faster than them feeling like nothing more than a cog in a wheel. Employees want to feel valued, and they should still feel some sense of humanity even up to the point that they are out the door for good.

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After all, word travels fast. If that employee enjoyed aspects of the job and company, a new hard-working candidate may be a referral away. Considering the high cost of employee turnover, you’ll want to do anything you can to find and retain qualified employees.

And keep talking that mess, that’s fine.

Another thing to remember is that regardless of what occurred to initiate the departure, it is the employer’s responsibility to keep the interaction professional.

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Jaime Zuder, Managing Partner of Journey AZ

“Remember the Golden Rule to treat people the way that you would want to be treated, even when having the uncomfortable conversation of terminating an employee” explains Jaime Zuder, Managing Partner of Journey AZ.

Involuntary terminations can be stressful, and some employees will lash out due to their frustrations.  Reacting unprofessionally, whether speaking or acting, could land the employer in hot water. That is something which is completely avoidable.

Remember to keep your composure and be the bigger person, regardless of how the terminated employee is reacting.  Go into the situation with a peaceful attitude. Prepare yourself to diffuse any volatile confrontations to keep the situation under control. Lastly, maintain a professional environment—for all people involved (and potential onlookers).

Hey, is that even legal?

Employee Termination Checklist Image 4Something else that can land an employer in hot water when terminating an employee is any illegal practice.  For example, telling an employee that she is terminated based on her performance, and that a man would probably fit in better and perform better with the all-male team, would be a sure fire way to land you in court.

While avoiding a statement like that might seem like a no-brainer for some people, others forget that avoiding discrimination needs to occur all the way through the employment process:  interviewing, hiring, working, and terminating.

If in doubt, it’s a solid idea to run things past your human resources department. However, HR should be readily available in all termination situations anyway.

If I bought it, please don’t touch.

One of the high-dollar ways companies often lose money when terminating an employee is by not retrieving company-owned property.

A best practice for ensuring the safe return of property is to start out straight upon hire; have employees sign out their devices, perform periodic audits, and begin the process of retrieving property as soon as you are aware of an impending termination.

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This process is twofold in that it helps you get all of your expensive devices and equipment back, but also that it helps it return intact (some employees have been known to destroy property upon termination).

Employee Termination Checklist

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all this information, here is a checklist to help make sure you’ve done everything you need to do to be in compliance with the law, but also to make the termination process a little more efficient:

  1. Get a formal resignation letter from the employee.
  2. Schedule a meeting to discuss the last day of work, how the workload will transition, to schedule the collection of company property, and to remind the employee of the exit interview.
  3. Retrieve company-owned property by means of a checklist with signatures.
  4. Withdraw access to systems and platforms, and retrieve security badges.
  5. Provide important paperwork for the employee to complete, including a change of address form and documents pertaining to the continuation or discontinuation of benefits.
  6. Perform an exit interview, and review any non-compete documents they signed during their employment.
  7. Notify existing employees, customers, and clients of the departure, and advise them about whom their new contact person will be.
  8. Give the employee their final paycheck, including any outstanding payroll advances, or any PTO accruals to be paid out.
  9. Keep a record of payroll (for tax purposes), and the termination process (including reason for leaving), should anything be needed in the futureEmployee Termination Checklist image 2


If you make a habit of getting organized and staying on top of employee terminations, the practice will pay off. Especially if any unusual situations arise during the termination process or thereafter.

Also, no employee is irreplaceable (even Bey agrees), so using your employee termination checklist can help you move out with the old, and in with the new.  “I can have another you by tomorrow…” 

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