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What to say about an employee departure

Updated: Feb 17

Whilst there are legal and regulatory issues to be considered when an employee leaves an organisation, an employer also needs to consider how to tell people about the departure as well as the ways in which it will affect those who remain.

The ways in which people are advised about an employee’s departure depends to a certain extent on whether it is a resignation, dismissal or termination. The amount of notice that the employer has of the employee’s departure also influences how it is handled.


These fall into two groups; immediate colleagues and others in the organisation. For the former, the departure may be of a friend as well as a workmate and it may also mean that responsibilities and workloads may alter in the short term. They should be notified directly, either as a group or individually depending on the size of the team.

For other members of the organisation, a short message can be used giving the departing employee’s name, section and date of departure, along with an expression of regret that they are leaving. Unlike immediate colleagues, the message can be sent via an e-mail or memo.

No Explanation Necessary

Although the employer may feel the need to explain the reasons behind the employee’s departure by way of justification, this should be resisted. It is very difficult to do this in a way that can avoid legal repercussions; an infelicitous choice of words may be interpreted as biased and/or discriminatory. That could result in claims against the employer if it is felt that the explanation has revealed an ulterior motive. Members of staff may read into the explanation things that were not intended and draw conclusions about their own performance and prospects.

Veiled Threats

Some employers may think that it’s a good idea to use the employee’s departure as a tool to compel increased obedience and compliance from other members of staff. This, however, is unwise. Hinting at the possibility of further terminations may affect staff morale at a time when the team/department really needs to be taking a positive view of the future.

Internal departments

HR and Accounts should be advised of the employee’s departure as soon as it is learned about. HR will need to know the circumstances of the departure because it will affect how their pay and benefits are handled. It will also affect how references are drawn up and prepared for future employers.

Customers and Contacts

If the employee was involved in a public-facing position, the people outside the organisation with whom the employee had contact will need to be advised of what has taken place. This should be handled discreetly and with no more information than is absolutely necessary.

So long, farewell…

An informal event such as a drinks party is often the way that organisations mark the departure of an employee. The format of such an event could depend on the employee’s length of service and how popular they are. These events are often best left to staff to organise rather than management unless there is an established tradition of managerial farewell events.

Don’t go Public

Under no circumstances should an employer make public the circumstances of an employee’s departure on social media. This can leave the employer open to legal action, particularly if it highlights hitherto unrecognised motives behind the departure.

There is also no need to use words such as ‘fired’, ‘dismissed’ or ‘terminated’. They’re loaded and may result in private information being made available to others. Merely explain that the employee is no longer working for the company.

It’s also worth remembering that people outside the organisation may well judge it on how it treats employees who leave. A badly handled employee departure could well damage the company’s reputation.

Unexpected departures

There may well be occasions on which the employee departure is wholly unexpected; the member of staff may have given no signs that they were unhappy with their workplace, conditions or colleagues and delivers the news that they are leaving as a total bombshell.

How should the employer respond? Can they restructure their team and/or department in the short time that the employee’s notice period allows?

Organisations may well have a departure protocol that covers such occasions and this should be observed to ensure that the employee cannot point to an area of procedure that was not followed properly, thereby giving them potential legal ammunition.

React rationally

Indeed, taking a rational, rather than an emotional attitude to developments can mean that a departure is handled cleanly and without the sort of bad feeling that can cause more problems in future.

Before you go…

A discussion with the departing employee can sometimes reveal the reasons behind their decision. Although the majority of these will be things about which the employer can do nothing, it may be that the main reason is something that they can address; a bold and innovative solution could make the difference between a valued employee leaving and deciding that they can remain with the organisation, albeit on changed terms.

An effective and attentive manager is never really surprised when they hear an employee is leaving. Having a finger on the pulse of their employees’ lives, both professional and personal is the mark of a good manager and this attention to detail will give advanced warning of likely developments, leaving the manager able perhaps to take action that could head off a departure, thereby retaining the employee.

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