Clear Communications Throughout Employment – Part 4: Transition and Exit

Throughout the employment lifecycle, clear communication with employees is crucial for strong business operations and employer/employee relationships. This is the fourth of a series of articles that focus on four key periods of employment: Recruitment and Hiring, Orientation and Onboarding, Retention and Development, and Transition and Exit. I encourage employers to analyze their communication strategies for each key period and consider ways in which managers can improve their communication with their employees.

Part 4: Transition and Exit

All employees leave our organizations eventually, and whether their departure is voluntary or involuntary, clear communication through their transition and exit can make a significant difference in how their exit impacts your organization.

The following is a general overview of communications during employee separation and should not be construed as legal advice. APEI requires its members to seek legal counsel for all involuntary terminations.

Involuntary Terminations

Involuntary terminations are stressful and can be time consuming, but by clearly communicating to the employee the issues and reasons leading to the employment action, you’re likely to reduce the time (and money) your organization may have to spend on potential grievances and legal issues following the termination.  Prior to making the decision to terminate an employee, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does documentation show that the issue(s) have been discussed with the employee? Has the employee be provided due process?
  • Has organizational policy been followed? Are there terms of a collective bargaining agreement that need to be considered?
  • Is this situation being addressed in the way similar situations have been addressed in the past?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, management should take a step back and address these items before proceeding. There may be additional factors to consider before making the decision to terminate an employee. Employers should NEVER arbitrarily terminate an employee and should ALWAYS consult with an attorney prior to a termination. APEI’s employment practices liability insurance may exclude coverage if the employer fails to consult with an attorney prior to an involuntary termination. APEI’s Legal Fee Reimbursement program can assist with pre-termination legal consultation expenses.

Once you are ready to notify the employee of the termination, take the time to plan and practice the message you will deliver to the employee. Consider what questions and rebuttals the employee may have and how to address them. Be respectful in the delivery of the message and don’t make it personal. Be prepared to end the conversation if employee tries to “drag it out”.

Voluntary Terminations

Even when an employee is leaving your organization voluntarily, there are communications that should take place to ensure a smooth transition from your organization to their next endeavor. Provide the exiting employee with information regarding when their health insurance coverage will end and whether they may be eligible for COBRA benefits. Inform them of how they can access their retirement plan and provide contact information for plan representatives.

If your organization does exit interviews, it should be consistent in offering the opportunity to exiting employees and in how the exit interview is done. For example, determine if exit interviews will be done with all employees or just those that are separating voluntarily. Also, ensure that the offer to do an exit interview is delivered in a consistent way. For example, avoid situations where an employee only knows of the opportunity if they read about it in an employee handbook, where another employee receives a face-to-face invitation. Clearly communicating the offer of an exit interview will prevent the perception of favoritism or discrimination.

Communicating That an Employee Has Left

Whether an employee has left your organization voluntarily or involuntarily, it may be necessary to provide some communication to staff of the reason why. When the employee is leaving voluntarily, discuss with them how they’d like the information shared with others. With involuntarily terminated employees, it will be important to carefully develop a message that addresses questions staff may have but also protects the terminated employee. Legal counsel can assist in determining what information is appropriate to share and which should remain confidential.

Further information

If you would like assistance in planning for the transition and exit of employees or to inquire about the Legal Fee Reimbursement program, contact Carleen Mitchell at for further information and tools to help your organization.