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Organizational Exit Overview: Federal

Author: Michael C. Jacobson, XpertHR Legal Editor


  • Employees may choose to leave the employer's organization for any number of reasons. To guard against an unexpected resignation, some employers choose to utilize resignation notice policies to ensure a smooth transition. See Resignation Notice Policies.
  • If the employer is able to obtain advance notice of an impending resignation, best practice is to encourage the outgoing employee to participate in an exit interview, which can be an extremely valuable fact-gathering resource for employers. See Exit Interviews.
  • Not all resignations are strictly voluntary. Some employees may choose to resign if they feel they are being forced out of work or if working conditions have become intolerable. Employers should review their internal practices and respond to employee complaints of misconduct promptly to avoid liability for a forced resignation or constructive discharge. See Constructive Discharge.
  • Just like a resigning employee may leave at his or her own discretion, even without any prior notice, an employer in the United States can generally terminate any employee, at any time, for any reason. See The Employment At-Will Doctrine.
  • Larger employers may also face the difficult task of terminating a substantial number of employees at once. When that situation arises, employers must be especially prudent in specifying job-related criteria to identify employees for a layoff, reduction in force or plant closing. See Layoffs, Reductions in Force and Plant Closings.
  • Where the employer has identified potential legal difficulties in discharging employees, it should consider taking proactive steps to prevent disputes. Employers should consider obtaining a release of claims from employees if they fall into one of several high-risk categories, making them more likely to start a dispute with the employer after termination. See Release of Claims.
  • Employees who engage in certain types of protected activities should never face consequences in the workplace for their actions; otherwise the employer may be exposed to liability for violating one or several anti-retaliation statutes. See Retaliation.
  • Employers must also be mindful not to single out certain employees who fall into one or more special categories, which may provide enhanced protection from termination to the employee, simultaneously raising the employer's risk of liability. See Terminating Special Classes of Employees.
  • Generally, the best way to go about terminating an employee is to build up a proper and accurate evidentiary record, provide the employee with feedback concerning job performance and discipline and treat the employee with compassion. See The Process of Termination.
  • Besides actually carrying out the termination, the HR professional may also be responsible for winding up the employment relationship, including providing severance pay and benefits that are owed to the employee. See Benefits Upon Termination.
  • When employees voluntarily resign their position, employer should consider asking outgoing employees to execute restrictive covenants or noncompete agreements to safeguard physical or intellectual company property, or even company profits. See Restrictive Covenants and Noncompete Agreements.
  • After an employee is terminated, the HR professional must still be diligent in protecting the workplace against retribution and maintaining good relations with remaining employees. See Safeguarding the Workplace After Termination.
  • Despite the HR professional's and the employer's best efforts, some employees may still bring claims against the employer following termination, particularly if they fall into one of several protected classes of employees, bolstered by both federal and state law. See Discrimination.