As lawyers who practice for both employers and employees, we know that terminations are rarely pleasant for anyone involved.

After all, as the Courts have acknowledged, employment is an essential component of identity, self-worth and emotional well-being. More recent Court rulings have reminded us that the manner in which employment can be terminated is equally important and impactful to the employee as the employment once was.

With the importance of employment and the impact of termination well established, what can employers do to ensure the termination process is as smooth as possible? One step that may come as a surprise to some employers is the importance of issuing a termination letter that is clearly written and easy to understand. This will help your employee grasp what happens next. Additionally, if they decide to retain a lawyer, a clear letter will likely help reduce the number of back and forths (and therefore fees) your legal counsel incurs merely addressing the details of the termination. 

Here are some key tips and takeaways to consider when drafting a termination letter:

  1. Understand the moment: The chances that the employee will remember the details of the termination delivered during the termination meeting are slim to none. For most employees, this news is shocking, difficult to digest and very overwhelming. Those emotions are typically not conducive to understanding, accepting and remembering the details of what will follow. This makes the termination letter all that more important. 
  2. Understand who is reading the letter: When drafting the letter, keep your audience in mind. You’re speaking to your recently terminated employee, not a lawyer. Writing a dense letter or one littered with legal jargon will add further confusion and overwhelm an already very stressed-out individual. Write in plain language and short sentences, don’t be afraid to use spaces, new paragraphs or numbers/bullet points to make it easier to read and understand. In case it wasn’t already obvious, don’t include latin terms in your letter that even lawyers will have to look up. 
  3. Be detailed: At the very least, address each of the employee’s entitlements upon termination, even if the best information you can provide is a promise that the applicable plan provider will follow up. For example, you may not be able to tell your employee what will happen with their pension following termination but you should explain who will be in touch to provide those details. 
  4. Ensure those details comply with applicable legislation: Before drafting your termination letter, make sure you understand what your employee is legally entitled to. For example, ensure you understand the basic entitlements owed to employees under minimum standards legislation like the Employment Standards Act. These entitlements range from monetary entitlements, ongoing vacation pay entitlements post-termination and timelines for payment. 
  5. Post-termination obligations: The termination letter may be your last opportunity to remind the employee of their post-termination obligations. These sorts of obligations can range from requirements regarding confidentiality to promises made in the original employment contract regarding solicitation. Don’t forget to remind the employee to return all company property. 
  6. When in doubt, consult a lawyer: beyond knowing what legal points should be addressed in the termination letter, striking the right tone, and addressing the right points in the termination letter can truly be an art. Termination letters are just some of the bread and butter of our work; chances are getting in touch and chatting will help you set things off on the right foot. Need some assistance? Find us here