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6 Signs It’s Time to Terminate an Employee

Justin Walker
Justin Walker

Firing an employee is never easy, but here's how to best go about it.

Firing someone is never easy.

Even when you know they’ve got to go, there’s always a chance the episode may turn sour. An ideal termination is rather like a no-fault divorce – both parties simply agree things are over and walk away. But, as with a divorce, there may be times when breaking it off with an employee isn’t a simple, clean depature. It’s important to handle the termination of an employee with great care to ensure you keep a strong reputation within the community and protect your business from possible legal action.

Below are six signs it may be time to terminate an employee.

1. Productivity is down.

A productive business is a successful business. If your productivity is down, it may not be because an employee is slacking – maybe your team is swamped – but it’s still a strong sign that something is wrong. If you have a specific employee who is constantly struggling compared to others or is frequently past their deadlines, it may be a sign that their production isn’t up to the job. Most companies allow for warnings and reminders in situations like this, but if time has dragged on without change, it may be time to let go.

2. They are the central figure in office drama.

Some people thrive on office gossip, drama and pot-stirring. It creates a negative and difficult work environment that, if it continues, can lead to insubordination, lack of trust and difficulty maintaining the teamwork mentality as they pit others against each other. They love rumors, they are constantly badmouthing management, and they’re always finding some way to be a thorn of trouble. These people are simply toxic and will never change, no matter how many warnings you give them.

3. They’re static and not looking to grow.

If an employee isn’t willing to train or improve themselves to keep in line with others, they’re going to be left behind, which also means that they’ll be dragging you down. If they don’t want to fix their mistakes or work to improve issues that are stopping them from being useful, then let them go. Sometimes people do not have the skills needed to push your business ahead, which means they’re holding you back.

4. Customers, vendors or co-workers are complaining.

According to Loyalty360, 86 percent of customers will drop a business because of a bad experience, and the average customer will tell 10-15 people if it’s bad. Only a fraction of those will actually reach out to management, which means that if you’re hearing about it, then you’re losing business and likely only hearing part of the problem. A subpar or difficult employee needs to go.

5. They’re violating company policy.

Sometimes employees unintentionally break the rules, but if they’re consistently breaking the rules, even after a reprimand, then they simply don’t care. In some cases you can institute a three-strikes policy, while at other times a single violation is enough that they simply have to go. When it comes to criminal violations and safety offenses, no employee should be surprised that they are getting fired. However, they should still be well aware of policies and their penalties. Examples are bringing weapons to work, theft and substance abuse. No court will consider such a termination unlawful, because there should be no surprise that such actions lead to termination.

6. Their time management is poor.

Occasional tardiness happens to everyone, but when it’s happening consistently, if they’re not calling to let you know they’ll be out, or if it’s the third time the same grandmother has died, then you’re right to be suspicious. While you should have a policy for time off and absence that includes warnings, every absence costs you money, which hurts your business.

Suggestions on how to terminate an employee

The first step is to decide when their final time is. Once you’ve made the decision to terminate, it’s best done swiftly. The time of day you choose to fire them may affect how they leave – firing them first thing will make them more likely to go right out and start job hunting, but it will also include the walk of shame and resentment for spending their time coming to a job they don’t have anymore.

Waiting until last thing on Friday will be the least disruptive to the workweek and give them the weekend to figure things out. It’s important that the transition is as nondisruptive as possible, and you may want to start recruiting or looking for an internal replacement before you let them go. It’s best to schedule a termination at the end of the day, because other workers will also be leaving and there may be fewer people in the office for a scene.

During the exit interview, get right to the point and make sure you’re always referring to their employment in the past tense so they won’t think there’s hope the firing won’t happen. Don’t use cliche phrases like “I understand what you’re feeling” or tell them that this is a good thing.

Be sure to listen to what they say. It’s likely they will be angry and shocked, so your response is important. Cover all the essentials – references, current projects, benefits, etc. – before wrapping the interview up by thanking them, shaking their hand and wishing them well.

A problem employee can be difficult to deal with, but the law is on your side. If you’re worried about the fallout or you don’t yet have sufficient policies in place, consider hiring a human resources consultant or an employment attorney to draft a policy that protects your business.

Image Credit: Nattakorn Maneerat/Shutterstock
Justin Walker
Justin Walker
Community Member
Justin Walker of Walker Law is a top-tier employment law and business litigation attorney located in downtown San Diego. His knowledge, expertise and commitment to every case are what set Justin apart from the crowd.