Many companies dedicate significant effort to onboarding new employees, officially providing orientation and training that can last for days or even weeks. With all of this effort, it can be easy to overlook the off-boarding process, which is in fact equally important. An employee's departure is the bookend to his or her employment with your organization, and it should be handled with care and attention.

A well-thought-out off-boarding process serves a number of purposes, whether the employee leaves voluntarily to pursue other opportunities or retires, or is terminated or laid off. First, it protects your company's security and property. Second, it ensures that all procedural details and mutual obligations between the company and employee are addressed, including, if applicable, severance arrangements that can help to safeguard your organization from future lawsuits. Lastly, off-boarding is often an opportunity to learn more about both your organization and management through an exit interview, and to communicate the departure to employees and clients.

If your company doesn't have an official off-boarding process, it's time to put one in place. As a guideline, use the Three Ps: Property, Paperwork and Perspective.

First, let's address property. This step is vital to both preventing the immediate loss of company belongings and ensuring the future security of company premises, personnel, and assets such as confidential data. In today's tech-driven business environment, managing the return of company property includes reclaiming everything from keys, entry cards, and credit cards, to computers, cell phones, and other mobile devices along with any flash drives or peripherals. If an employee telecommutes, it's important to arrange for the pick-up or return of company property from home. You will also need to disable passwords and access to company voicemail and email.

Next, off-boarding should address necessary paperwork as well as any obligations that remain between you and the employee following his or her departure. You will need to prepare the employee's final paycheck to be delivered either at the time of departure or at another time (such as the next regular payday) as required by your state's law; inform the employee that employer-sponsored health insurance will end and explain how he or she can obtain continued health coverage through COBRA or state continuation of coverage laws, if applicable; and facilitate access to retirement plans for management or possible rollover, as necessary. You can also discuss your company's reference policy for future employment, and whether you are willing to offer a detailed reference or simply confirm the employee's dates of employment and position held. Finally, in the case of an employee who is leaving involuntarily, as with a termination or layoff, you may wish to offer severance pay in exchange for his or her waiving the right to sue the company for discrimination or wrongful dismissal. Due to the complexity of the law in this area, severance agreements should be written by a knowledgeable employment law attorney, and severance should be paid only after an agreement has been signed.

Next, your off-boarding program can give you perspective through an exit interview, if the employee agrees to give one. Many employees leaving voluntarily are more than willing to sit down for a candid discussion of the company, including areas of strength and those that need improving; ideas for increasing productivity in their individual jobs and departments; and the company's overall competitive standing in the marketplace as it relates to salary, benefits, and rewards programs. Don't overlook the exit interview if you are fortunate enough to have a willing employee—it can supply valuable information that you will not obtain under any other circumstances.  This final phase of off-boarding is also where HR, the employee's supervisor, and possibly even the employee develop a transition plan, and discuss how and when to communicate the departure to colleagues and clients in a minimally disruptive fashion.

Finally, keep this in mind: while it may be tempting to focus on filling a newly-vacant position and getting your operations back up to speed, the time you spend carefully off-boarding your employees is an investment in your company and its good reputation in the marketplace. To learn more about termination, COBRA, and a host of other HR and benefits management issues, visit us online at www.HR360.com.

Employee Termination: Checklist & Guidelines for Employers

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