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Three questions you should ask HR staff when you terminate your contract

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Three questions you should ask HR staff when you terminate your contract


Craig Levey is an employment lawyer and provides insights into the role of HR in termination discussions.

Levey advises employees to ask about the reason for termination of employment, the end date of benefits and severance pay.

When making layoffs, Levey recommends consulting with an attorney to understand separation agreements and possible legal rights.

This is a machine translation of an article from our US colleagues at Business Insider. It was automatically translated and checked by a real editor.

This essay on termination is based on a conversation with Craig Levey. He is Employment law attorney and partner at Bennett & Belfort, PC, a law firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The following text has been edited for length and clarity.

I have been working as a labor law attorney for 12 years. My firm represents individuals and we are on Discriminationsexual harassment, Wage and working time conflicts as well as claims from whistleblowers specialized.

People need to understand that HR works for the company. The company issues the paychecks. At the end of the day, HR managers are primarily interested in ensuring that the company cannot be held liable.

Below you will find out how Human resources manager be trained in carrying out terminations.

HR managers pursue these three main goals

From an HR perspective, there are three main goals when terminating employees.

1. You don’t want the employee to find out about the termination meeting.

As a rule, the employee’s supervisor will inform them of the conversation on the same day. In some cases even just a few minutes in advance because the employee is not supposed to prepare for the interview. He should not prepare any questions, send any emails, download any documents, etc.

And then there is the “HR ambush,” where an employee was informed of a meeting with their manager. But: When he shows up to the meeting – be it virtually or in person – he sees the HR department there. They are obviously shocked.

2. You want the meeting itself to go as quickly as possible.

They want it to be a quick and dirty meeting. Ideally it only takes a few minutes.

During this conversation, the company will let you know that you have been terminated, when your last day is, and when your benefits will end. You don’t want them to go into more detail than that.

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3. You want to make sure you don’t say anything that could expose the company to liability.

HR doesn’t want employees asking questions during this interview, which is one of the reasons they don’t announce it – they don’t want them to prepare for it.

Most of the employees are in the USA employed at your own request, so companies don’t have to give them a reason for termination. But the more questions employees ask, the more liability the company can face if HR or the manager doesn’t answer the questions correctly.

For example, in recent months, many videos have gone viral on TikTok and elsewhere of employees asking all of these questions, and that has resulted in bad press for the company. So the HR department doesn’t want the employee to ask questions.

What should you do if you find yourself in a termination conversation?

Some employees tend not to ask questions because they are so shocked – they freeze, which makes sense.

But you should use the minute or two you have with HR or your manager to get as much information as possible. I recommend employees ask three questions:

Why BI will receive the notice of termination?

If it is an employee who is being fired of their own volition, the company does not have to give you a reason for your firing. But there’s no harm in asking, because in the worst case scenario they’ll say, “We won’t tell you.”

But sometimes they will give you information that can help you if you legal claims against the company have.

When do my benefits end?

In most cases, benefits end either immediately or at the end of the month. But you want to know when your benefits will end so you can take care of your health insurance and other things, and you need to know how quickly to act.

Will I be offered severance pay?

You want to know whether the company offers you a severance package. Then you can prepare to potentially hire an employment lawyer or simply plan your next steps.

I know lawyers aren’t cheap, but if you’ve been offered a settlement agreement, there’s a lot of money involved. Of course, I’m biased because I’m a plaintiff-side employment lawyer, but I think it makes sense to spend at least an hour with an attorney to understand your rights.

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The employment law lawyer can explain to you what you are signing, as the contracts are often very difficult to understand. At least you get something in return for that knowledge, and when you sign the contract, you get money from the company.

On the other hand, the lawyer may tell you, “You shouldn’t sign this because you have really good legal standing,” which could result in additional costs for the employee.

Layoffs take a slightly different approach

Layoffs are a little different. Since multiple people are affected, the company plans this in advance. Depending on how many people are terminated, it decides whether to offer them severance pay or other compensation.

When it comes to layoffs, companies are more concerned with the press they will receive. Especially in larger companies that, for example, lay off 15 percent of the workforce, they know that the press will get wind of it.

That’s why we often see that the CEO at 9 a.m a works meetingand has a carefully prepared script in which he discusses the layoffs and explains why it had to happen and so on.

This is a very different situation than if HR fired just one person for cause.

What do you do if you are fired?

As an employee, you likely won’t have the opportunity to ask questions in real time during a large layoff. The CEO will speak on Zoom, but you will not have the opportunity to comment as you will only be listening.

The company may have prepared a separation agreement and a layout process will take place. It will be very planned.

It is often said that if you have any questions, you should contact someone from the social or human resources department. So you can ask questions via email, but it’s not the same back and forth in real time.

From a strategic perspective, the employee should still approach the next steps after termination in the same way. If you have one Termination agreement is offered, it makes sense to meet with an attorney to review it. Because: You want to make sure that you understand what you are signing. You also need to check whether you have legal claims against the company. Do exactly what you would do if you were the only person being fired.

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The only problem is that it’s much harder to prove your legal entitlement if you’re one of a hundred laid off people. The company will say, “Oh no, we fired him because he was part of the wave of layoffs. He and 99 others were released. This has nothing to do with discrimination.” This makes it difficult to prove possible legal claims.

HR is not your friend

I don’t think every HR person is a bad person. People need to understand that HR’s job is to protect the company.

Your loyalty is to the company, not the employee. Employees need to understand that HR is not their friend.

Update im April 2024: Content checked and updated.

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