In most States, companies are free to adopt “At-Will” employment policies. Essentially, “At-Will” means that an employer has the right to terminate the employee at any time, for any reason. Terminating an employee can be one of the most challenging and unpleasant aspects of a manager’s duties. Termination of employment is a serious action and is usually the next step after a series of disciplinary actions. As Susan Heathfield explains in “What Is At-Will Employment?”, this type of employment “does not mean that employers can arbitrarily fire employees without good faith communication, fairness, and non-discriminatory practices”. The process of termination should always be completed in the most professional and ethical manner possible.

Below is a list of suggested action items to complete prior to, during and after an employee’s termination:


  1. Consider laws protecting certain classes of employees
  2. Consider internal company policies which may limit the right to terminate. This may include “Employment At-Will” policies, Progressive Discipline Policies, Internal Dispute Resolution Policies and termination policies requiring a “Just Cause”
  3. Review the worker’s employment contract (if applicable) for limits on the right to terminate
  4. Review the worker’s personnel file
  5. Consider legal implications of not terminating the employee
  6. Create a script prior to the meeting with the employee to ensure that everything essential is covered
  7. Set up a private meeting
  8. Listen to the individual yet avoid misdirected compassion
  9. Thank them for their contributions and wrap up the meeting graciously
  10. Ensure that company property such as keys or laptops are turned over before the individual’s departure
  11. Consider their eligibility for unemployment benefits
  12. Notify the department immediately, and share the work duties transition plan with the team as soon as possible