It’s every employer’s nightmare. You’ve got a member of staff who doesn’t pull his or her weight, who upsets the other employees, or who just isn’t up to the job. You wonder if you should fire the employee, but you don’t really know how to go about it.
It’s a dilemma that affects businesses of all sizes. Managers put off acting, worried about legal repercussions or just wanting to avoid confrontation.
But the cost of inaction is high: your business suffers when it is paying for an ineffective employee, or when inappropriate behaviour damages the morale of other staff.
When Should You Take Action?
Occasionally a situation will arise where you have no option other than to dismiss an employee; for instance, in cases of gross dishonesty or violence against colleagues. But the situation is often less clear cut and it is not unusual for employees to perform poorly for months, or even years, before managers decide to tackle the problem.
Poor performance is not the only issue employers have to deal with, and there are times when it is necessary to consider firing an employee who meets his or her performance targets.
Typically this will be due to behaviour or attitudes that are upsetting colleagues, managers or customers, or which interfere with the smooth running of the business. However, there may also be other circumstances, such as absenteeism, that force you to act.
If you find yourself hesitating, consider the consequences of doing nothing. Inefficient employees place a greater burden on their colleagues, and reduce the service that you can offer to your customers– and difficult people can cause dissent within the team. As an employer you want all of your staff to see you as fair, but firm.
Do You Really Want to Fire Him?
But first, stop and ask yourself the question, do you really want to fire this employee? You have invested a lot of time and money into recruiting and training this person, and will have to spend more time and money on finding and training a replacement. Is there a solution other than sacking them?
It is essential to converse with the person before coming to any decision. Don’t put it off because it is difficult. If the problem is attitude or absenteeism, just the knowledge of a potential job loss is often enough to persuade the person to change his or her ways. Or, there might be a genuine problem of which you were unaware.
If an employee is underperforming, the chances are that they are just as aware of it as you are, and the matter probably came up at earlier appraisal meetings. Before making a final decision, you might want to explore whether extra training or working with a mentor would make a difference. Or, in a larger organization, it may be possible to move the employee to a different role.
Remember that spending time with an employee to improve performance is likely to make them more loyal to the organisation, and will send a positive message to other members of the team.
Follow the Right Procedures
If you decide that you have to dismiss the employee after considering all other options, it is essential that you follow the right procedures. I cannot stress this enough: there have been countless instances of employers who were perfectly justified in firing employees, but who faced substantial compensation claims simply because they did not act within the letter of the law.
Employment legislation varies from one state or country to another and if you do not have an in-house HR department, you may find it helpful to consult a lawyer who specialises in employment law. There are other issues to consider as well, and you need to take particular care if the person concerned has a health problem or is a member of a protected minority.
Make sure to protect yourself by documenting every conversation and decision that you make. And, if you have your own internal policies, or if you have agreed procedures with the unions, be sure to follow them.
Don’t forget the human aspect. It should come as no surprise to the employee that you are firing them, but you should have a final discussion where you explain exactly why you are letting them go. Talk about what happens next in terms of notice and pay and, if appropriate, mention references for future jobs.
The Right Solution for Everyone
If you have to fire an employee remind yourself that it is because they do not fit well with your organisation. In the long term, the person concerned will likely be happier and more successful working elsewhere. Human resources expert Susan M Heathfield says that she, “receive[s] regular feedback that firing an employee was the best thing that ever happened to them because it caused the employee to move on to better pastures.”
Terminating a contract is the final solution when all else has failed. If you have robust procedures to deal with poor performance or inappropriate behaviour as soon as it arises, your should rarely need to sack a person. But, taking the right action at the right time will benefit you, your staff and your business.