Generic or Specific Termination Letters: What’s in Your Company’s Best Interest?

Karen recently joined a plastics manufacturing company as
its director of HR and administration. An employee needed to be terminated, and
Karen was asked if it would be better to provide a generic termination letter,
provide a detailed termination letter or simply to notify the individual
verbally that the company was choosing to move forward with dismissal.

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Like so much else in human resources, it depends: Providing
accurate and specific termination letters may be in the company’s best
interests because details of the situation serve to demonstrate that the
termination was legitimate, consistent and based on sound business reasons.
Further, well-written and substantiated termination letters can dissuade
plaintiffs’ attorneys from taking on a case. On the other hand, Karen is aware
that a poorly constructed termination letter could do enormous damage should
the matter proceed to litigation, which is why certain defense lawyers
recommend only generic letters with few or no details—and some recommend
providing no letter at all.

“It’s not so much which style is better—it’s which
style best suits your organization’s history and culture, as well as the
particular circumstances surrounding the termination decision,” said Chris
Olmsted, shareholder at Ogletree Deakins in San Diego. “Terminations
without explanation can give rise to incorrect assumptions about the company’s
motives. For example, terminating a witness in a harassment investigation
without explanation may give rise to the belief that the company retaliated
against the employee, even if the employee had a history of performance
problems. A well-written and accurate letter of termination could provide
contemporaneous evidence establishing the legitimate basis for termination.

"On the other hand, if the termination letter is poorly
written or includes wrong facts or incomplete information, then the company’s
credibility could suffer in litigation. For example, if the termination letter
references a reduction in force but the company then immediately hires a
replacement, the offered reason might be seen as pretense.”

While it’s true that advising an employee of the reason for
the termination is considered a best practice and may be required in some
states, the employer generally retains the discretion to express the reasons
for termination specifically or generically and either verbally or in

Keeping these issues in mind, before finalizing a decision about her new
employer’s approach to termination letters, Karen wisely reached out to
qualified legal counsel for advice and strategies that she could share with the
senior leadership team. With a better understanding of the pros and cons of
specific versus generic documentation, she skillfully guided her employer in
creating a new policy and practice that the organization could rely on with

Of all the decisions your managers and supervisors
make, terminations are the ones most likely to result in litigation. If you’re
unsure what the best approach is for your company’s terminations, don’t risk
it. Reach out to Converge HR Solutions for any of your HR needs. We are a team
of trained HR professionals, and we can help you decide between generic or
specific letters. You can protect your credibility and team with us to make
sure the letter is written correctly. Don’t risk it. Visit our website for more information Contact us directly at or 610-296-8550.

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