Need to Fire Someone? Here’s What You Should Know

Posted on September 25, 2013.

Kudos to any manager out there who’s been able to survive without firing anyone.  No offense, but you’re either extremely lucky or a major conflict avoider.  Be honest, did you just transfer your problem to another department? Firing someone is one of the hardest things you ever have to do, but do it you must.

I learned the hard way that keeping poor performers around demoralizes the whole team and can hurt overall productivity.  “Why should I bust my ass if Jamie over there is doing half the work and no one seems to care?” Whether they say this out loud or not, this is what you best performers start thinking.

Here’s what you need to know if you’ve finally had it and ready to take action.

1.     Unless your employee has an employment contract, works for a union or works in the state of Montana, you have the right to fire anyone at anytime for no reason.  It’s called "at-will" employment. Now the reality is that unless there’re layoffs, you really should document the reason. This can be done on either your firm’s counseling form or this simple counseling form. Make sure you put very specific milestones and dates. Be clear that if they fail, they will be asked to leave.

2.     Understand the applicable labor laws. Make sure you’re not breaking any rules regarding discrimination as outlined in the Department of Labor website. It doesn’t mean you can’t fire someone covered under these laws, but you need to be extra certain you have a well documented performance issue.

3.     Understand your company’s policy manual. Do you have mandated rules for severance?  Do you have to provide written counseling for a minimum time period? Who needs to be involved in the decision?

4.     Be respectful.  You may have a poor performer, but unless they did something unethical, they’re still a good person who’s clearly in the wrong job. Treat them with respect and work to help them discover what job (likely outside the company) that would play better to their strengths.  If you handle these types of discussions well, it’s not unusual for the person to quit before you need to take action.

When I speak with managers today that have a low performer, they often make these types of excuses about why they’re not going to fire them.

            “ I don’t think their previous boss really knew how to coach them”

            “ It’s going to be too hard and take too long to fill the position.”

            “I don’t have time to complete all the documentation that’s required.”

In answer to these excuses- 1) I guaranty their former boss tried like hell to coach this person so call them and find out; 2) you should be building your talent pipeline all the time, not just when someone leaves and 3) you will spend less time documenting than you currently spend covering up or personally filling the shortfall in performance.

I know I may sound harsh, but I’ve made all these mistakes so I know the results of failing to act. Plus, I’ve be the recipient of people transferred to me that should have been fired.  You owe it to the rest of your team to bite the bullet and make the hard decision.