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Employee Dismissals and Terminations: Up in the Air…

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…is where I was yesterday, returning from vacation. As I was flying, I had the opportunity to catch up on some films that I hadn’t seen, including the Academy Award nominated film, “Up in the Air”. For those of you not months behind in your film watching like me, you will know this is the movie starring George Clooney as a “terminator for hire”. His character is retained to fly to companies around the globe and, on behalf of these companies, to conduct their employee dismissals. The plot thickens when the decision is made to begin to offer this service remotely, dismissing employees over a video screen. Some of the most brilliant performances in the film are not from the Hollywood actors, but from the individuals who receive the news that their employment has come to an end.

Interestingly, I heard somewhere that these were not exactly “performances”, as the individuals who played these roles had actually lost their jobs in the recession. Even though the film didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture, the emotions portrayed by the dismissed employees were authentic and this certainly resonated for me as I watched the film.

I think that the film can serve as a reminder that, at the heart of every employee dismissal, there is an employee, an individual with responsibilities, aspirations, self-worth, with things they have attached to the job that are dashed when they hear that the job has come to an end. Employment lawyers can help with all of the legal mechanics around the termination process (what severance to provide, what benefits, whether to provide a letter of reference, what it should say, etc.), however, conducting the meeting itself, delivering the news and treating the employee with respect cannot be overlooked. I have seen many good severance packages go unnoticed by employees who feel crushed by the manner in which their dismissal meeting was handled.

Our economy may be recovering, but the need to terminate employees will always exist. We hope that there may be less of this over the years to come and, if so, it is all the more reason to do the ones that need to be done with care and compassion.

Christine Thomlinson