One of the hardest news to break to any employee is their termination. While most HR managers are required to approach this with sensitivity and gentleness, there is no way of determining how employees will react to it. However, what happens when you are requested to reverse a termination? How do you go about it?

If you’ve been wondering whether reversing a termination is doable, this blog post is for you. We will explore how to go about doing this and what factors you need to consider.

reversing a termination
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What is employee termination?

Employee termination refers to ending an employment relationship between an employer and an employee. Either party can initiate it for various reasons. Terminations are an inevitable part of any organization. They can happen for various reasons, including but not limited to poor performance, violations of company policies, economic or structural changes, or mutual agreement.

There are two main types of employee termination: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary termination happens when an employee resigns of their own free will. In contrast, involuntary termination happens when an employer decides to terminate an employee’s contract due to reasons that are either performance-related or beyond the employee’s control.

Involuntary termination can be further categorized into several types, which include:

  1. Termination for a cause: This occurs when an employee has engaged in behavior that violates company policies or laws. Such behaviors include stealing, sexual harassment, fraud, or gross insubordination.
  2. Termination without cause: This type of termination happens when an employer decides to let go of an employee, despite the absence of any wrongful or inappropriate behavior.
  3. Layoffs: Layoffs happen when an organization cuts staff back due to financial or economic reasons, such as a recession or downsizing. Unlike termination for cause, layoffs are not the employee’s fault nor a reflection of the employee’s performance.

Reversing a termination can happen when an employer realizes the grounds for termination were unfounded, unjustified, or made in error. However, it is complicated and only appropriate under certain circumstances. Therefore, it is vital to involve HR and legal professionals when considering termination reversals to ensure the company complies with legal obligations and employment agreements.

Reasons for termination of an employee

Reasons for termination of an employee from an hr manager‘s perspective:

  • Poor Performance: An employee’s work performance is critical in determining whether continued employment is sustainable. Inconsistent or inadequate work output, missed deadlines, and lack of engagement are some examples of poor performance that can result in termination.
  • Violation of Company Policies: Such violations can include fraud, theft, sexual harassment, or gross insubordination. Disregarding the company’s code of conduct can have legal or financial implications, making it a justifiable reason for termination.
  • Breach of Employment Contracts: When an employee is hired, they sign contracts that outline their job responsibilities and expectations. Not meeting these contractual obligations can result in termination.
  • Economic or Structural Changes: The inability to adapt to an organization’s changing demands and priorities can lead to layoffs. Economic downturns that impact the company’s financial stability can also result in downsizing.
  • Mutual Agreement: Employees may choose to terminate their employment contracts voluntarily due to various reasons such as personal issues, work-life balance concerns, or career advancements.

From an employee’s perspective:

  • Unreasonable Demands: Employees may feel overwhelmed and overworked by unrealistic job duties and strict deadlines.
  • Discrimination: Discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or age is illegal and may be a reason to challenge a termination decision.
  • Lack of Clear Communication: Poor communication between management and employees can result in misunderstandings or confusion, leading to termination decisions.
  • Health or Personal Reasons: Employees may have to leave work due to medical reasons, maternity/paternity leave, or family emergencies.
  • Unfair Treatment: Employees who feel mistreated or bullied by their managers or colleagues may file complaints with Human Resources or regulatory bodies.

Reasons for reversing a termination

Although reversing a termination can be difficult, there may be cases in which canceling or changing a termination proves to be the right move. This could be due to an employee’s exemplary service record, a lack of clear procedures followed during the disciplinary process, or professional behavior offering evidence that the infraction was a one-time occurrence and not likely to happen again.

Furthermore, HR might reverse a termination if changes in working conditions make it difficult or impossible for an employee to succeed. If poor management practices also contributed to behaviors warranting corrective action, or if reconsidering the issue yields a new perspective on its original rationale, it is possible to reverse a termination.

Considerations when reversing a termination

When reversing a termination, several considerations should be taken into account. First, employees should always be treated fairly and equitably, regardless of the reason for the termination. That means providing sufficient notice of corrective actions, ensuring any investigations are conducted in good faith and with appropriate objectivity, and informing employees of their rights under applicable laws and regulations.  If legal counsel reviews an employee’s termination and establishes it violates any laws or regulations, then the employee has legal grounds to request a reversal of termination.

Managers should also consider if there were contributory factors to the termination that could have been addressed before the employee’s separation from the organization. This may include training or development opportunities, better job descriptions, performance expectations, or more effective communication between management and staff. If these elements were ignored, this means the employee may not have been clear on what is expected of them to succeed within their roles hence grounds for reversal of termination. 

Additionally, if managers can find evidence supporting an employee’s successful reintegration into their role within the organization, this may be another cause for reversing a termination. This could include evidence from past performance reviews that demonstrate high levels of capability before the termination occurrence, positive behavior changes, or an expression of contrition for any wrongdoings. Ultimately, these factors need to outweigh any business concerns about having a terminated employee return to work.

How to reverse the termination

Reversing a termination decision is consequential and requires careful consideration and a structured approach. Here are the essential action points to follow:

  1. Review the decision: You should review the original decision and assess whether any grounds exist for reversing it. This involves analyzing the facts and circumstances leading to the termination, including any documentation, witness statements, or relevant policies.
  2. Check the legal requirements: Considering any legal or contractual obligations that may apply to the situation is essential. This includes reviewing the employment agreement, company policies, and applicable laws and regulations.
  3. Consider new evidence: If further information comes to light that contradicts the initial decision, it is crucial to consider it. You must investigate such evidence and determine if it warrants reversing the termination decision.
  4. Consult with relevant parties: When considering reversing a termination decision, involving all parties in the original decision-making process is important. This could include the employee, the reporting manager, and other key stakeholders.
  5. Re-establish employment: If the company decides to reverse the termination, you must follow the relevant procedures to re-establish the employee’s employment. This includes informing the employee of the decision, updating relevant records, and determining any necessary actions, such as reinstating benefits and pay.
  6. Monitor progress: Once the termination has been reversed, monitoring the employee’s progress and establishing a plan to support them is essential. Ensure you regularly follow up with the employee and their manager to ensure the situation does not repeat itself.

The bottom line

Ultimately, reversing a termination can effectively restore trust and rebuild relationships between the former employee and employer. The process takes time and effort, but standout features for employee management, like clear communication, thoughtful documentation, and accountability on all sides, can make it possible to overturn a dismissal in some instances. 

For HR teams looking to reverse terminations, the key is to put thought and care into all aspects of the process so that employees feel supported throughout the journey. This can help create a positive working environment, promote fairness in all decision-making, and ensure compliance with all applicable laws. The more carefully HR teams handle these sensitive cases, the better it is for employers and employees.