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Conducting Exit Interviews

Terminations are an inevitable part of employment, but despite their seemingly routine nature, even voluntary terminations can present a host of potential problems for employers. When handled properly, however, they can provide you with a valuable opportunity to gain insight into your organization, correct previously undetected problems, and increase your retention rate. For those reasons, you should handle every termination, voluntary or otherwise, thoughtfully and on a case-by-case basis. Here are a few points to consider when an employee resigns.

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There’s always a reason
At first glance, you might think that voluntary terminations don’t require much thought or analysis. An employee submits his resignation, works his two-week notice period, and that’s the end of the story. But what if there’s more to it? Every termination happens for a reason, and if you don’t communicate with an employee who’s resigning, you may end up missing potentially important information.

For example, an employee’s resignation may have been prompted by a supervisor’s abusive language, a coworker’s harassment, boredom and lack of work, or working conditions so intolerable that she saw no choice but to resign. In all of those cases, simply accepting the employee’s resignation might cause you to miss an opportunity to uncover and remedy issues that could hurt your company’s productivity and culture or lead to a discrimination or constructive discharge claim. Consequently, you should consider conducting an exit interview when someone resigns to confirm that her decision was truly voluntary and identify issues relevant to your company’s success.

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Find out what that reason is
During an exit interview, ask questions that will help reveal the underlying reasons for the employee’s resignation. That will help you determine whether you should take any action. Try to ask open-ended questions, which typically encourage employees to talk freely about their employment experience.

As a starting point, ask why the employee decided to leave. Depending on his response, you might follow up with questions about his relationship with his supervisor, his satisfaction with his working conditions and salary, any problems he had with his workload or equipment, things he liked or disliked about your company, and what changes might have prompted him to stay.

If the employee discloses problems that might constitute a discrimination or harassment complaint, ask for all the relevant facts, including names, dates, places, witnesses, and any previous complaints, and begin a formal investigation into the matter. If her allegations are substantiated, you’ll have a chance to discipline a problem employee and possibly avoid a discrimination or harassment claim.

If the employee discloses a reduction in productivity or lack of work, ask for details about his workload, scheduling, and production. That may help you determine whether it’s necessary to realign your workforce or consolidate jobs.

If he shares his discontent with his salary, ask questions about what other companies are paying for similar jobs. His complaint may be a signal that it’s time to reevaluate your pay scale.

If the employee discloses justifiable unhappiness with her working environment, ask questions that will help you determine whether you should offer her separation pay or a severance package in exchange for a signed waiver and release. Again, that may help you avoid liability for any number of potential employment-related lawsuits down the road.

Ask questions during the exit interview that will reveal the employee’s attitude toward your company. If he’s angry or distrustful, it might be in everyone’s best interest to allow him to leave immediately with pay rather than working a two-week notice period. If he signed a nonsolicitation, noncompete, or confidentiality agreement, take the opportunity to remind him of his obligations and the potential consequences if he violates the agreement. Be sure to provide him with a copy of the relevant agreement.

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Final thoughts
During her exit interview, you should tell the departing employee when she will receive her last paycheck, any accrued vacation pay, and any earned commissions.

Explain the applicable benefits issues, including her rights under COBRA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and your 401(k) plan. Inform her of her responsibility to return any company-issued property, including keys, handbooks, computers and software, and cell phones.

Make her aware of any outplacement services your organization offers. Finally, thank her for her service to your company and for participating in the exit interview, and document the entire exchange.