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Exit interviews: Use them to cut turnover, unveil legal risks

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in Employee Benefits Program,Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

THE LAW. While you're not required to conduct exit interviews with departing employees, federal employment laws do govern how you must handle certain information heard during such meetings.

For example, say an employee tells you she's been sexually harassed on the job. Even though she may insist she's quitting for a better job, not because of the harassment, you can't ignore her allegation. After all, the alleged harasser may be harming others.

That's why you should treat any mention of harassment or discrimination in exit interviews as you would any similar complaint by a current employee. Apply your anti-harassment standards and conduct the same type of investigation.

Even if you ultimately determine there was no harassment, the ex-employee may still sue you later. By showing that you investigated her complaint quickly and thoroughly, you strengthen your legal defense.

Also, if an employee seems reluctant to open up in the exit interview, reassure her that you won't retaliate against her via a negative job reference. Explain that retaliation is against the law.

WHAT'S NEW. Nearly 90 percent of employers conduct exit interviews, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey. But a growing number of employees try to skip their exit interviews, either by simply not showing up or not agreeing to appear in the first place.

How can you encourage employees to show up?

Make it part of your policy that all employees who resign in "good standing" must take part in exit interviews. Explain that participation is necessary to be eligible for rehire. And note that the interview is on the clock, which means they'll be paid for participating.

Finally, while most exit interviews are held on the employee's final day, you'll likely obtain more candid (and constructive) answers by hosting the meeting a week or two after the employee departs. On that employee's final day, set up a date and time to talk by phone or in person.

HOW TO COMPLY. Handled correctly, exit interviews can help identify and resolve workplace problems, minimize resentment and help boost employee retention. Just as important, the interview is also a chance to defuse potential legal actions by the departing worker.

To benefit from departing employees' insights, follow these four tips:

1. Keep good records of what you hear, so you can analyze any trends, such as recurring mentions of problems with a certain supervisor.

Take notes on the employee's actual comments, not your interpretations. Use quotation marks to signify the employee's exact words. Imagine a jury reading the notes (which could happen). Document details, such as the day and time of incidents mentioned. At the end of the interview, ask the employee to read and sign your notes or the completed exit-interview form.

2. Communicate the employee's feedback to those who can use the information to analyze and correct any problems. One reason managers dread conducting exit interviews and hearing their outcomes is that they might hear something they don't want to know. That's why it's smarter to use a neutral party, usually the HR manager, to conduct exit interviews and initiate feedback to the proper channels.

3. Follow up on information that points to inappropriate or unacceptable behavior, such as allegations of harassment, discrimination or poor management. You're better off probing such matters during the interview, rather than getting caught off-guard by a lawsuit later.

4. Handle exit interviews in a consistent manner. For example, don't invite some employees to exit interviews while bypassing others. A standard approach: Set a blanket policy that says your organization will conduct exit interviews with employees who leave the company voluntarily, but not with terminated employees.

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