Any recruiter would rather welcome a new employee than ask an old employee to leave, but laying off staff members is unfortunately often required. While there’s not much you can do to remove the sting of being terminated, you can go about it in such a way that your workers at least feel appreciated, informed, and empowered to move forward.
When this happens, the professional thing to do is to write a notice letter that briefly addresses the reason for termination and sets out all the specifics of how employment will end. Although an at-will agreement gives the company the right to let employees go without advance warning, many organizations prefer to give some notice so that there’s time for all necessary adjustments and handovers. This letter type serves this purpose. It also equips the employee with all the information they need to move forward without confusion.
A good notice letter should be succinct, objective, respectful, and well thought through – you don’t want to get your company into legal trouble because you compiled a rushed notification that came off as insensitive and discriminatory.
The steps below outline how to approach termination in an at-will context and write a notice letter that’s effective and professional.
Tips on How to Write a Notice Letter
1) Do Your Research
Before you write a word, it’s a good idea to examine the initial job offer made to the employee, as well as any other relevant material (like orientation correspondence and handbooks), just to double-check that employment is, in fact, at-will and to make sure you haven’t forgotten about specific commitments to the staff member. Use this time to think carefully about the reason for the layoff so that you can explain it properly in the letter and avoid making misleading statements.
2) Talk First
It’s always a good idea to deliver news like this in person – it shows the employee that you respect them and recognize the weight of this decision. So before issuing a notice letter, arrange a meeting to inform the employee of termination face-to-face. This discussion might also bring to light certain queries and concerns that you can then address in the letter.
3) Be Crystal Clear
Although the language you use when you write a notice letter shouldn’t be robotic and unfeeling, make sure your wording is clear, straightforward, and specific. Explicitly state that employment has been terminated, and include exact dates, times, and quantities. Don’t beat around the bush in an attempt to soften the blow. Try to show empathy, but also don’t sugarcoat the facts or be overly emotional and apologetic. This approach will only get in the way of clarity and sound inauthentic.
4) Explain Your Reasoning Cautiously
While some states require that you divulge your reason for termination, others do not. Even if you are not required by law to provide a reason for termination in the letter, most agree it’s still a good idea. Outlining the thinking behind your decision helps to give the employee some closure and reassure them that the layoff was not unfairly conducted. Similarly, explaining criteria that were used to decide who goes and who stays highlights that the process was objective and unbiased. That said, be wary of launching into a lengthy account of what led to this point – if you waffle, you could say something that gives the employee grounds for legal recourse.
5) Cover All the Technicalities
A number of specific issues need to be addressed in the letter so that the employee understands how details of the termination will work. Make sure you write a notice letter that covers the following:
• What date will final payment be made, and by what means? Will they also be paid out for any leave they didn’t use?
• Is the employee entitled to a severance package, and if so, what does this include?
• Will all company benefits end on their termination date? How can the employee continue participation in policies on their own? For instance, what steps must they take to continue health insurance through the COBRA plan?
• What company property is in the employee’s possession, and when must it be returned?
6) Assist Where You Can
A compassionate organization will go out of its way to help the terminated employee make the transition smoothly. Remember, being laid off is stressful, so do what you can to ease the anxiety. Arrange a meeting where they can ask more questions. Provide the contact details of an HR representative in the letter. Enclose forms they need to fill out to convert company benefits to individual policies. Mention that you’d be willing to connect them with outplacement services (if this is company policy), and offer to write a service letter to prove conditions of termination and a reference letter to help them find a new job promptly.
7) Express Gratitude
The terminated worker provided the company with a service during employment, so don’t forget to thank them for this (if the circumstances of the layoff warrant such a message). You don’t want disgruntled ex-employees bad-mouthing the organization on social media, so be sure to recognize their value and contribution.
8) Think Legal
To prove that you did write a notice letter that set out the terms of termination, ask the employee to sign a copy of the document and keep it on file. You will probably also want to get a legal team and the employee’s manager to check over the letter before sending it.