As I travel the country doing private consulting for kitchen and
bath dealers, I’m astounded at the lack of action on the part of
the owners/managers in terms of firing unproductive and/or weak
employees. It appears that this lack of action is caused
1. A fear of firing confrontation.
2. A fear of legal ramifications (caused by a lack of knowledge of
what can and cannot be done).
3. Procrastination (business is good, the employee isn’t really
strong but is a warm body, etc.).
4. A lack of time to do the sit downs and documentation necessary
to make it happen.
Keeping a weak, unproductive or problem employee on the payroll,
however, is doing a disservice to you, your employees, the company
and the “problem” employee. Your business and the employee team are
like a steel chain. It will only be as strong as its weakest link.
While no one enjoys firing an employee, getting someone out of the
organization who isn’t productive or is a demotivator can give a
huge boost to the performance of the business.’
Before firing, an employee’s length of service with the company
must be considered. An employee who has worked for the company for
several years should be given several months to improve. A newer
employee can be given less time.
Each employee needs to have a job description, and you need to
do annual or bi-annual performance reviews. It’s a proven fact that
by carefully working with employees on performance shortcomings,
you can improve the value of the employee to the company. And,
employees will know where they stand at all times.
If the regular performance evaluations don’t result in
improvements, you must start the verbal and written warning
process. These warnings make mandatory an improvement in work
quality, productivity, attitude or whatever the issue might
Many companies hire employees with a provisional 90-day
employment period. If an employee shows poor work habits,
unsatisfactory skill levels or attitude problems during this
period, don’t hesitate to fire him or her. You’ll still need to be
aware of the legalities, however, as the courts do not recognize
“provisional” employment periods.
How you handle a firing will have a tremendous impact on how the
employee feels about himself or herself, you and the company. This
will, in turn, affect your chance of being sued. In addition, a
poorly handled firing can have a negative impact on morale
throughout the entire organization.
After you’ve taken all of the preliminary steps and have made
the difficult decision to let someone go, stick to it. Don’t
Have all of the final termination paperwork ready,
- Final checks covering pay period, vacation, etc.
- Cobra forms for insurance.
- A list of company-owned items that must be turned in (keys,
uniforms, equipment, tools, etc.).’
- A termination form.
Note that some amount of severance pay may be warranted, based
on the length of service.
When you’re ready to proceed with the termination, ask the employee
to come into your office. If there’s another direct supervisor or
witness who should be present, have the person there. Get to the
point quickly. Briefly explain to the employee that he or she is
being fired. Summarize the main reasons for the firing, recap the
warnings that have been issued and the opportunities extended to
improve his or her performance.
Go over the details of the final paycheck and other paperwork.
Offer to go with the employee to clean out his or her desk or
office, or to mail personal belongings.’
Show appropriate sympathy for the employee, but not empathy.
Stick to the main facts. Don’t waver or change your mind. Don’t
overstate any aspect of the employee’s performance.
Answer any appropriate questions the terminated employee may have.
Remember, terminations are extremely emotional. The employee may
not hear the basic message or may not understand the details of his
or her firing. You may have to restate some or all of the
As long as the employees don’t lose control, extend them every
reasonable courtesy. Giving them an opportunity to say good-bye to
co-workers is reasonable.
If the employee does lose control and becomes verbally abusive,
ask the person to vacate the building. Don’t allow yourself to get
You should have a termination form that summarizes the action.
Ask the employee to sign it. If he or she chooses not to, call in a
witness to show that you offered it and it was refused.
Thanks to our friends in the government, you need to carefully
consider any potential termination from a legal perspective. If
you’re not sure where you stand legally, consult an attorney before
you take any action. The best way to avoid a lawsuit is to be sure
that you and all of your supervisors understand discrimination
The paper trail
Creating a paper trail is important for all employees, but even
more important for employees you may want to terminate. This is
where job descriptions, written and regular performance evaluations
and documented verbal and written warnings will help you in
of a lawsuit.
Focus on the following points to help make a termination go more
n Don’t take firing lightly. It can involve significant legal risks
and can have a traumatic impact on other members of your staff.
- Don’t hesitate to consult counsel. You may save yourself the
huge costs of a post-firing lawsuit.
- Plan what you’re going to say. Being well prepared will make it
easier for everyone involved.
- Be calm. Don’t get excited or irritated, even if the employee
being terminated does. Soon this person will be gone and will no
longer be your problem.
- Be humane. Be as kind as possible. Termination is traumatic and
you must maintain complete control of the situation.
- Avoid surprises. Giving weak employees the opportunity to
improve via performance evaluations and communicating every step of
the way will eliminate surprises if it doesn’t work out. Never fire
someone who has no idea that his or her job may be in
- Have a paper trail. Good documentation on poor performance will
help avoid legal problems.