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Letting go of an employee can be a challenge on multiple levels. If the employee is a strong performer caught in the cross hairs of an impersonal layoff, you may have trouble finding the right words to deliver this news. If the opposite is true, saying goodbye can be a relief, but you’ll need to choose the right language in order to protect the company from a legal or public relations backlash.
As you draft and edit your message, use these termination letter samples as a guide. Review your wording several times with the help of your team and your legal counsel.
How to Write a Termination Letter
Like these termination letter samples, your own letter will need to be extremely tactful and diplomatic; aim to make a clean and honest break. Your message should include every detail the employee will require in order to move forward, but it should also omit bits that may put the company in an awkward position later.
Core information: In your first few sentences, announce the termination, state the name of the person and his or her position, the name of the company, as well as the dates of the letter and official termination.
Warnings: List all the warnings that have occurred, both written and verbal.
Reasoning: Provide a reason for the termination, whether the fault does or does not lie with the employee.
Company property: State the items that the employee will be expected to turn over to the company before leaving, including computers, keys, vehicles, or supplies.
Vacation pay, severance, and benefits: Either list and explain the remaining loose ends regarding payment and benefits, or clearly explain how the employee will receive this information.
Keep your details clear and accurate: The information in your letter absolutely must be correct, with nothing omitted, no excess, and no room for misinterpretation.
How to Format a Termination Letter
Like these termination letter samples, your letter will include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction should state your core information listed above and should use the official term agreed upon by the company (for example “termination,” “separation,” “release,” or “discontinuation of employment”).
In the body of your letter, explain as many of the details behind the decision as the situation warrants. For example, if the employee is an excellent performer and the termination is a sad and regrettable Ñ but unavoidable Ñ decision, feel free to share this. If the employee is a poor performer who has received multiple warnings and attempts at coaching and correction, share this information here.
In the conclusion of your letter, address the nuts and bolts and clearly describe your expectations (such as “the employee will return the keys promptly”). Explain exactly what the employee must do to claim his or her remaining pay, benefits, or entitlements. Thank the employee for their service before signing off.
Common Termination Letter Mistakes
As you review these termination letter samples and create your own, watch out for these common mistakes.
An overly emotional tone: Never adopt a tone of anger, contempt, or personal outrage while drafting a termination letter for a departing employee. Keep your delivery cool and professional, regardless of the circumstances.
Including too much information: An at-will employment agreement means either party can end the relationship at any time for any reason. So technically, you can terminate an at-will employee on a whim if you choose. But if your explanation suggests (or allows for the possibility of) discrimination based on a factor the employee can’t control (like race, gender, age, handicapped status, or religion), this may be grounds for a justified lawsuit. So keep your reasons clear, fair, and short.
Disrespect: Keep in mind that the reputation of your company is at stake, and this employee won’t just disappear into the mist when they walk out the door. Treat the employee with dignity, and be kind and diplomatic as you say goodbye.
Ambiguity: Never suggest or imply that the employee and the company have a future together if this is not true. Vague statements like “for the time being” and “until such time as market conditions return” can suggest that the door to a relationship remains open.
You’ve Written Your Termination Letter. Now What?
After you’ve consulted these termination letter samples and created a draft that works well and applies perfectly to the situation at hand, you’ll keep one copy on file, hand one over to your HR professional, and deliver one to the employee. Some companies ask the employee to sign a form or copy of the letter to acknowledge that they’ve received and read it, but don’t demand or expect a dismissed employee to sign anything at all.