Separating an employee from your organization — whether through a firing or a layoff — can be disruptive and unpleasant. But having a process in place can make it go more smoothly and help the organization avoid any legal, emotional or professional entanglements.

It’s important to get separations right, says Joyce Domijan, vice president of strategy and program development at CareerArc, a hiring and outplacement firm. “From the company’s standpoint, their reputation and — depending on the employee — possibly a lawsuit is at stake. A layoff that is handled well, where the employee feels respected and appreciated for their contributions by the company that is letting them go, will result in much less damage to the company’s reputation and reduce the likelihood of lawsuits.”

Here’s how to offboard the right way.

Research Your Requirements

First, start with any laws you might need to follow. This includes state and local laws applying to any notice you have to give, severance payments and rules regarding the final paycheck, bonuses and accrued paid time off, Domijan says. Requirements can vary widely by jurisdiction and laws can change frequently, so take the time to check the latest rules anytime you need to separate an employee from the company.

Protect the Company

When an employee is separated from the company, it puts many of the organization’s systems at risk. Company leaders will need to safeguard systems, networks and property, Domijan says. In addition, managers should consider the possibility of adverse reactions by the former employee and determine whether security might be needed. Finally, determine whether there are any pending legal, discrimination or workers’ compensation claims from the employee, Domijan says, or any claims involving governmental agencies such as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Prepare the Notification

Don’t do anything on the spur of the moment, Domijan says; preparation is vital to make the process a smooth one. Identify who will tell the employee, and who else might need be there, such as an HR representative. “Script out exactly what you want to say, because when you get in the meeting you’ll be nervous and stressed,” Domijan says. “Follow your script but really try to deliver it in a kind and compassionate manner.”

Get to the Point

When the moment of notification arrives, it’s important to not try to delay it or make it easier. Engaging in small talk doesn’t help the situation, Domijan says; it just makes things awkward. “Deliver the news in a respectful and compassionate manner,” she says. “Don’t rush it, but allow the employee time to ask questions and compose themselves — have Kleenex available. But stick to the script and don’t go off on tangents.” If it fits the situation, Domijan recommends acknowledging and thanking the employee for their contributions.

Provide Direction

Even if the employee was expecting a separation, they’re still likely to experience some shock or disorientation. “If they are being asked to leave that day, you’ll either want to give them time to gather their belongings and return company property or arrange a time that they can come back in and collect them,” Domijan says, suggesting a weekend or evening when the office isn’t too busy. “Try to be cognizant of their feelings — it might be very uncomfortable to gather things up after just getting the news and with the whole office watching,” she says.

A layoff that’s handled well makes the employee feel respected and appreciated for their contributions, Domijan says, and means much less potential damage to the company’s reputation. It also reduces the likelihood of lawsuits. When it comes to letting employees go, a little preparation goes a long way.

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