Business scenario: How to fire an employee

February 15, 2017

Do you have a sinking feeling that an employee isn’t working out? Is it time to let the person go, or is there some way to turn the performance around?

While no one likes dealing with problem people and behaviors, few business owners can escape them—whether it’s too many absences, trouble interacting with customers, or red-alert actions such as taking money from the till.

While we’re not HR or legal experts, a few commonsense strategies and advance preparations can ward off the need to fire someone—or make it as painless as possible for everyone.

Help employees get on track.

First, think about the environment employees are stepping into. “Nobody comes to work to make mistakes,” writes HR pro Liz Ryan on “When something goes wrong at work, it’s a learning experience.” And that means for the boss, too.

Are expectations clearly stated and reinforced? Have employees received proper training? While training time is always tight, people still need to know what they’re supposed to do and how to do it.

Yet many are genuinely unsure, as they bumble from mistake to mistake trying to figure out the job. More instruction and more patience from the managerial side can be just what they need to succeed.

For employees trapped in a personality/job mismatch, better communication or training won’t solve the problem. Assess their strengths and weakness using employee performance reporting, and consider reassigning them to new roles, if possible.

Evaluate how big the problem is.

While the magnitude of the problem dictates the response, even smaller offenses can turn into big issues that drag down sales and morale.

One common reason people lose their jobs is missing too much work. While an occasional absence with a good explanation may be acceptable, repeatedly failing to show up needs attention. Talking to employees to find out what’s going on, collaborating to create workable schedules, and allowing staff to swap shifts are small steps that can help.

If problems like absenteeism persist, most HR pros recommend progressive discipline. That means taking incremental steps to alert employees, whether part-time or full-time, that their behavior needs to change. The process might start with a verbal warning, proceed to a written warning, then a suspension, and finally termination, each thoroughly documented in writing to avoid legal exposure.

When it’s really bad, act swiftly.

Other problems, though, such as stealing, drinking on the job, and harassing coworkers or customers, require an immediate response. In these cases, progressive discipline is far too slow. The employee must be let go quickly and clearly. Resist engaging in arguments with the employee.

Firing someone for cause requires equally quick communication with the team. Be transparent and calmly tell them what happened, without recriminations or gossipy details. Don’t breach anyone’s privacy, but also don’t let rumors fester.

For many employees, especially high-functioning ones, removing weak teammates creates a more positive workplace and alleviates frustration. “The most common complaint of unfair treatment in the workplace comes from management’s failure to deal with poor work behavior and poor performance,” notes a human performance expert.

In sum, be compassionate and try to help when you can. But be brave and act swiftly when you must.

[image: El Batey – Old San Juan by Jorge Gonzalez on flickr]

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