It is wise for an employer to maintain an up-to-date understanding of what types of technology its employees use and how they use them to perform their jobs. This information enables an employer to achieve various goals, such as enhancing productivity, facilitating asset management and protecting its assets. This information is also critical when an employer terminates an individual’s employment.

Prior to Making any Decision to Terminate an Employee

The types of information for which an employer should maintain include a list of the systems and devices (such as printers, copiers, scanners and network servers) made available to employees, how employees interact with those systems and devices, and the stores of company information to which each must have access in order to perform his or her job.

Decisions About the Notice Period

When deciding whether or not an employee should be permitted, asked or required to work through all or part of a notice period, consideration should be given to whether or not it is prudent for the employer to continue to make the devices, systems and types of information to which the employee requires access in order to continue to perform his or her job available during the notice period. If it is prudent to require the return of certain devices or restrict access to certain systems or information, the employee may not be able to perform his or her job or a significant portion of it. In these circumstances, the employer may wish to pay the employee in lieu of notice, or require the employee to focus on transition rather than his or her day-to-day job during the notice period. For example, requiring a salesperson to continue to sell during his or her notice period may not be a realistic possibility if the employer intends for security purposes to restrict the salesperson’s access to the employer’s customer relationship management system and document management system .

For the remainder of this article, we are assuming that the employee being terminated is being paid in lieu of notice.

While the Employee is Being Informed

At the same time that an employee is being informed that his or her employment is being terminated, his or her access to the employer’s network(s) and any email accounts provided by the employer should be suspended, especially remote access. This prevents the employee from accessing the employer’s network(s) for purposes such as deleting or copying files. Additionally, any personal computer or other devices assigned to the employee should be secured. Securing a desktop computer will prevent the employee from asking a friendly co-worker to log-in and delete files from the personal computer’s hard drive.

Voice mail boxes should be secured. A complete copy of the contents of each should be made, and the passwords changed. If the employee will not be permitted to record his or her own message redirecting calls, the message should be changed.

At and After the Exit Interview

If the employer does not already have all of the passwords used by the employee to access the employer’s devices and systems, the employee should be asked to provide such passwords at the exit interview. The employer’s information technology staff should be asked to verify that the list is complete.

Devices such as cell phones, personal digital assistants and laptops furnished to the employee should be returned to the employer at the exit interview. If certain devices are not recovered at the exit interview because they are not in the office when the employee is terminated, the human resources staff conducting the exit interview should follow an established plan for addressing the matter and be able to answer the following questions: What happens when a device is not returned during an exit interview? Is the former employee given a set period of time to return the device? Is the employee informed of any possible consequences if the device is not returned by the deadline? If the device is a cell phone, personal digital assistant or other device for which the employer is paying wireless charges, who is responsible for instructing the telecommunications company to suspend the account or re-assign the number to another device? How quickly must this take place?

There may be times where it is appropriate for an employee who is being terminated to have supervised access to his or her voice mail boxes, email accounts or the employer’s network(s). For example, an employee may be permitted to check his or her voice mails and email for personal messages before leaving the employer’s premises.

Conclusion

Good asset management practices (including maintaining an inventory of devices used within an organization) and good information security practices (including managing access rights and passwords) will make it easier for an employer who needs to terminate an employee. The information that the employer has about the devices, passwords and access rights used by the employee will help the employer to make informed choices about whether or not the employee should be asked to work during his or her notice period. The information will also make it easier to secure the devices assigned to the employee and the systems to which the employee was given access.