When It's Time to Let an Employee Go

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on May 17, 2013
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Firing someone is, without a doubt, one of the most unpleasant experiences imaginable for a small-business owner. But sometimes letting an employee go is essential for the well-being — perhaps even the survival — of the company.

Jonathan Pyle, a vice president for ThinkHR and a 25-year human-resources veteran, recently shared his expert insights into how to determine when to terminate a worker and what steps should be followed in the process.

Speaking at the recent Hire Smart Small Business Event hosted by Intuit and LinkedIn, Pyle acknowledged that the top 10 priorities of small-business owners rarely include learning to manage employees out of the workplace.

“Business owners know when someone is not doing their job, especially when you’re small,” he observes. “So, how do we know when it’s time to terminate an employee? What we would [ask] is, When is it the right time to talk with candor and explain to someone what the expectations are?”

Candor is the biggest “dirty little secret” in employee management today, Pyle asserts. Frequent communication and fluid feedback not only reinforce employee expectations, but also make termination easier should the need arise. In many cases, these discussions serve as an effective push in the right direction for poor performers. At the very least, this process serves as a clear warning to the employee that change is both desired and expected.

Complicating matters for employers, however, is the increasingly common concern an improperly handled termination could result in litigation.

“What we know from years and years of experience is that a lot of business owners worry about being sued,” Pyle says. “But if you’re candid, honest, and issue-specific, you’re not going to get in trouble.”

The HR expert believes that the gravest offense to an employee’s pride and emotional health is being let go unexpectedly. “We want to avoid surprises,” he says. “The worst thing that you can do is sit them down and terminate them without warning. That’s when they feel humiliated. That’s when they don’t feel they’ve been respected.”

When the notion of termination arises, Pyle says, that’s the time to begin a frank but non-confrontational discussion with the employee. When verbal warnings don’t result in improved performance, the next step is to provide a written warning specifying that additional corrective action, up to and including termination, will take place if the undesired behavior continues.

“When someone reads and signs a document with that language,” he explains, “we’re going to reach them with the gravity of the situation. We’re not going to surprise them at the end of the day.”

These are just a few of the tips shared by experts at the Hire Smart event. Want more? Login here to get free access to all of the resources from the conference, including exclusive video of all the seminars at the event.

Michael Essany Headshot

Michael Essany is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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