Exit Interviews: Easily Overlooked - Too Valuable to Disregard

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June 23, 2008

What is an exit interview? Exit interviews are individual meetings to question departing employees about their reason for leaving as well as their attitudes and observations about the company. These interviews are conducted in a variety of ways: the formal interview in which specific prepared questions are asked, a casual conversation interview, and the written questionnaire. As a general rule, written questionnaires are not effective because they do not allow for follow up questions and they do not protect against evasive or incomplete answers. The most successful exit interviews are those that follow a preplanned format, like the formal exit interview, and are conducted in a casual conversational manner. These types of exit interviews allow the employee to feel relaxed, thereby allowing the interviewer to elicit information about the employee's work experience and decision to leave.

Most small and medium businesses view exit interviews as things that larger companies do. Many large companies view exit interviews as time-consuming fluff that wastes time and provides nothing that will ever be used. To some, exit interviews are for those human resources types who need some way to justify their value to the company. To these forward thinkers it is inconceivable that an exit interview could provide anything of value, particularly from someone that is leaving the company, presumably to go to a competitor.

From the perspective of the employment lawyer, a properly conducted exit interview can be the first line of defense that can minimize or completely avoid employer liability. In circumstances of unreported or under reported (minimized) complaints of harassment, discrimination or retaliation, the exit interview can be crucial in uncovering conduct that requires an immediate response from the employer. When these situations come to light, they present an employer with its first opportunity to take prompt remedial action and, perhaps, keep a valuable employee. The exit interview can also prove instrumental in establishing that the employee did not leave because they were constructively discharged or that, if harassment was reported, that it was remedied to the employee's satisfaction.

Finally, the exit interview is the employer's last opportunity to clarify each party's expectations and allow your company to evaluate how it's compensation and benefits package compares to others in the marketplace. Issues such as pay, benefits, COBRA, and continuing obligations or duties, in the form of confidentiality or non competition agreements, can be called to the employee's attention. It is this ability to exchange information that makes exit interviews so valuable, particularly when compared to the cost of a potential claim.

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