Composing a “nice” termination letter to an ailing employee requires a professional approach, employing tact and relying on legal advice from a qualified attorney. There may be instances where an employer must take such a drastic measure. For example, if an employee's illness threatens the health of co-workers or customers, such as in the case of a food preparer who has contracted tuberculosis, an employer may be justified in terminating an ailing employee due to illness. The termination letter should be written tactfully and should be reviewed by an attorney, if possible, before it is delivered. The written notification should be regarded as a formality for the sake of documentation: an ailing employee deserves a face-to-face meeting regarding their termination, whenever possible.
Consult With Staff
Speak with executive management and the employee’s supervisors regarding the employee’s illness and your decision to terminate the employee. Discuss whether this is the only option and determine whether executive management and the supervisors support the decision.
Provide documentation of the illness to illustrate your concerns and request the support of executive management and the employee’s supervisors to proceed with the termination upon the advice of an attorney.
Consult an attorney to determine which laws may apply to this employee's illness. If a worker is fired and it is later determined that their illness did not affect the workplace and could be easily accommodated, a civil lawsuit as well as possible legal action from the State Department of Labor could occur.
A qualified attorney can help clarify the law and whether termination of this particular employee is legal. The attorney will need to review the employee’s records as well as any documentation available concerning the illness.
Prepare the Letter
Draft the letter by outlining your decision to terminate the employee. Explain how you arrived at the decision and how continued employment would jeopardize others in the workplace.
Explain, if possible, the opportunity for the employee to work with your firm once she has recovered from her illness. Express your sincere regret and wish the employee a speedy recovery and the best in her future endeavors. Include all legal statutes that may require you to terminate the employee, if applicable. Remember, the termination letter is a legal document confirming the employee’s termination. It also provides documentation of your reasoning, which could be very important if the employee decides to sue.
Distribute a draft of the letter to your executive management and your attorney for any edits and approval. Your attorney in particular should ensure the letter complies with all legal statutes.
Write the final letter once you receive the edited draft from the attorney and executive management. Do not make ignore or overrule those edits, as doing so could have legal consequences in the future. Keep the draft of the letter with the edits in case you need it in the future.
Deliver the Letter
Contact the employee and arrange a meeting at his earliest convenience. Remember, if the employee has an illness, he may have other pressing matters and cannot meet with you right away; however, he should schedule a meeting as soon as possible. Do not deliver the termination news over the phone; rather, do it in person at the meeting. Avoid terminating the employee just before a holiday or before the weekend as a matter of ethics and consideration.
Prepare for the meeting and keep uppermost in your mind the fact that this is an exit interview. Practice what you will say to the employee and how you will say it. Prepare a list of all things the employee will need to return to the company at a future date, and have a witness to sit in on the exit interview.
Meet with the employee as agreed and begin the meeting only after your witness is present. Be professional, straightforward, and refrain from apologizing, despite the circumstances. This may not be the employee's fault, but it is not your fault either. The situation simply requires this action. Be clear and concise on how and why you arrived at your decision, and mention any legal statutes that require the termination.
Explain any benefits due the employee and hand her the final copy of the termination letter at the end of the meeting. Offer any assistance the employee might need in cleaning out her workspace and exiting the premises.
Write down everything that happened and was said during the interview. Do this immediately after the meeting has concluded so you do not forget anything important. Place your notes in employee's file. They are part of the employee's permanent record.
Kenneth W. Michael Wills is a writer on culture, society and business. With more than 15 years of experience in sales, public relations and written communications, Wills' passion is delighting audiences with invigorating perspectives and refreshing ideas. He has ghostwritten articles on a diverse range of topics for corporate websites and composed proposals for organizations seeking growth opportunities.