termination letter

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How to Write an Employee Termination Letter During the COVID-19 Crisis

Writing an employee termination letter is a most unpleasant situation for HR professionals. But it’s also something you can’t put off or avoid.

Writing such a letter becomes all the more difficult when terminating an employee during a crisis. 

With COVID-19 disrupting the economy, there has been a wave of mass layoffs. It’s alarming to note that over six months, more than 60 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance. So as you take on this task, you aren’t alone.

As we all know, there’s nothing you can say to make them feel better. However, the way you choose to write the termination letter and deliver the news to them can make a significant difference. “You have to creatively close the employee life cycle in a way that honors the time that employee has been with you,” advises LT Ladino Bryson.

Let’s take a look at how to best write an employee termination letter due to COVID-19.

Clearly State the Reason for Termination

Given the current economic realities, there will be speculation among your employees. So as a business owner or HR professional, you must be transparent during the termination process. 

To be as transparent as possible, and protect your company from legal consequences, create a letterhead for all termination letters. Start with including essential details such as:

  • Date of letter
  • Date of termination
  • Company name 
  • Employee’s name
  • Manager’s name

Next, go on to state the financial difficulties the company has been facing and inform them of the difficult decision you’ve had to make. Remember, termination letters are written records. So, again, be upfront about the reason. Specifically, it is essential to stress the termination is not performance-based.

Click here, then scroll down, to see a practical example of an employee termination letter made necessary by the COVID-19 crisis.

Explain Next Steps

We must consider several formalities while terminating an employee. To streamline the process and avoid misunderstandings, outline what is most important in the termination letter. Here are some elements you should include:

  • Mention the return of company property (e.g., laptops, smartphones, employee ID cards, etc.)
  • Details on their final paycheck and when they will receive it
  • Include any employee benefits they are liable to (e.g., severance pay, retirement savings, health benefits, etc.)

Because this is a sensitive time, and many countries and states have different regulations when it comes to COVID-19 related layoffs, it is advisable to seek legal advice while writing termination letters.

Be Direct Yet Compassionate

Apart from what you include in the termination letter, it’s also essential to choose your words wisely. It would help, of course, if you were direct yet compassionate while delivering this unfortunate news to your employees.

Airbnb is one such company that handled the employee termination process with immense empathy and compassion. What stood out in CEO Brian Chesky’s message? He didn’t try to sugarcoat the news. Instead, the company laid off 25% of its employees while communicating the decision with the utmost transparency.

While this decision might come as a blow to your employees, responsibly approaching the announcement will help mitigate some of the pain. 

Offer Support

The employees you terminate are likely to be left wondering what they should do with their life next. It’s tough news to process, and the least you can do is offer support. 

There might be instances when the employee might need advice, recommendation letters, or even help with their resume. At such times, you must strive to provide all the help and information they need. Ensure you emphasize that in the employee termination letter, let them know that they can come to you for any guidance. However, at the same time, make sure you don’t make any promises. 

“You may feel tempted to say, ‘As things get clearer, and the economy improves, you’re on our list to come back.’ But no one has that kind of foresight. Don’t sugarcoat and don’t give false hope,” states a Harvard Business Review article

The Termination Letter: Compassion and Empathy Matters

Terminations are difficult, period. And when you must lay someone off remotely during a global crisis, it’s a situation that calls for compassion and empathy. 

Keeping these critical considerations in mind will help you end the working relationship with grace. And you’ll do it without them feeling betrayed while at the receiving end of terrible news.