The importance of empathy in employee terminations

Too often, employee terminations can be messy

The importance of empathy in employee terminations

“No matter what the situation, bring empathy, context and clarity to the conversation.”

So says Greg Smith, consultant and executive coach, in emphasizing the importance of humanity when it comes to employee terminations.

Having worked as head of HR for companies such as Campbell Soup, Porter Airlines and Marriott, Smith is more than qualified when it comes to the intersection between human resources and employment law.

Which is why he’ll be speaking at the upcoming Employment Law Masterclass in the panel discussion “Understanding recent trends in just cause terminations to limit exposure to legal issues.”

Too often, employee terminations can be messy. Why? Organizations get scared, says Smith.

“In my experience, they tend to be more reactive — either they haven't dealt with something for a long period of time and it got to a breaking point, and they've had to do it.

“Or it's just someone who’s a leader who tends to be less empathetic and just really more brain-centred and logical and says, ‘Well, we’ve got to fire people. And here's what we’ve got to do. Go do it, and make sure you don't get us into any trouble.’ So people get fearful, and therefore they lose sight of the fact there's humans involved.

“And yes, you’ve got to be smart; yes, you've got to be thoughtful. But remember, there's humans involved.”

And of course with the pandemic, there’s been a huge focus on employee wellbeing, he says.

“The mental health of everyone is waning. And so now it adds a whole new layer of sensitivity and stress that can spin out of control.”

And with the huge shift to hybrid work, it’s that much more important to approach terminations with compassion, says Smith. Do you call them into the office or do it by video?

“It's that empathy and context to say, ‘You know what, we have had to make a tough decision. And we were going to call you into the office, but we didn't really think that that was fair. And so we wanted to have this conversation with you now. And, by the way, here's the supporting numbers of those people you can call,’” he says.

Masterclass session

The panel discussion at the upcoming Employment Law Masterclass will also look at:

  • Managing the potential increase in harassment and bullying claims
  • Overview of recent cases upheld on common law instead of statutes
  • Understanding the legal implications of the Render v. ThyssenKrupp Elevator case
  • Dealing with the ongoing uncertainty caused by the Waksdale v. Swegon North America decision
  • Tips for drafting enforceable termination clauses to minimize liability


To hear more from leading employment law experts, register for HRD’s upcoming Employment Law Masterclass here.

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