Firing Employees

Ah, firing employees. What many small business owners would consider the hardest part of managing employees. The notion of firing employees isn’t a comfortable one. What about their families? What about paying unemployment? Is there any way out of this? Would better training help?

firing employees

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In an ideal world, you would always find good employees and hire quality employees. Onboarding and training employees would be smooth and uneventful. Internal communication would be seamless, company culture would be healthy, and there would be no toxic employees. You’d have no work-related stress at all!

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that things will always remain that way.

When to Fire an Employee

A toxic employee could be so bad that every time they walk in (late, of course) the door, your blood boils. That’s an easy instance where you know it’s time. There are other times when the decision isn’t so cut and dry.


No call/No show

A no call/no show is when someone doesn’t come in for a scheduled shift without calling ahead of time with explanation of the situation. This is absolutely unacceptable behavior for any and all businesses. Even more so for businesses that supply a service. It can ultimately lower the quality of service provided when you’re short staffed without proper notification ahead of time.

Also, there’s the principal of it. There is a big underlying problem if someone is so inconsiderate that they don’t inform you when they won’t be showing up to a scheduled shift. Or, if someone wasn’t careful enough to note their scheduled shifts. Both situations are a reflection of clearly irresponsible employees.

They’ve damaged the reputation of the business

Integrity is important. Employees should always be honest with clients and within the company, otherwise you’ll learn not to trust them. Or worse, it will reflect poorly on your company.

A good example of this is someone who was mentioned in several negative online reviews. It’s clear in this case that the employee is giving very bad service and people are spreading the word.

Too many reported incidents

A great manager keeps a paper trail of mishaps. You’re well aware when there have been too many reported incidents. Because there is a long page in front of you describing issues and disciplinary actions taken. When it comes to that point you’re certainly going to need to consider letting go of the employee.

They’re hindering more than helping

Look at net gains versus net losses that this employee brings to the company. Are they helping the company or hurting it? Have their blunders cost the company a significant amount of money?

Think about this objectively. If you’re buying new software, you’ll think about the return you’ll get on the investment, right? The ROI. You’re paying for your employee to be on the payroll and receive company benefits. Are you receiving the proper return on the time, training, resources and money spent on this member of your staff?

Major Violations

There are instances where an employee doesn’t get three strikes and they’re out. No incremental consequences or progressive disciplinary steps necessary. These should be written out clearly in the employee manual and/or onboarding paperwork. Every employee should be aware that there are offenses that can result in immediate firing. Examples of offenses that result in immediate firing would be theft, bringing a weapon to work, and showing up to work while abusing substances.

It may be time to fire an employee. But first…

There are a few things you need to consider before firing an employee when they have too many reported incidents or you’re beginning to believe that they’re hurting your business rather than helping it. You must be very thoughtful about the decision. Leadership expert, former Google executive and author, Kim Scott, is very familiar with the process of firing employees.

firing employees according to former Google executive

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According to her, you should only fire an employee if you can answer ‘yes’ to the four following questions.

Have you discussed their performance on several occasions?

You should always be very clear when someone on your team isn’t meeting your expectations. Frequent communication is the hallmark of every great manager. You should let your staff know when they’re doing a great job and when they  could improve their performance. How can you expect them to improve if you haven’t been communicating with them about their poor performance?

Have you offered help, guidance, and challenged them to improve on multiple occasions?

Telling an employee they’re falling short isn’t always enough. Some instances will call for you to give the employee additional training, resources online and in books, and to be partnered with a high performing staff member. Your job as a small business owner and/or manager is to give your staff all the tools that they may need in order to succeed. You can’t expect everyone who walks in the door to be able to complete all tasks to your standards immediately.

Have you considered potential reasons for poor performance?

There’s a possibility that who you’re considering letting go has good reasoning for a recent downfall in productivity. They could be in a position that isn’t suitable for them. That could be ratified simply by moving them into a different role. Were they trained well enough? If they received low quality training because of under staffing, time restraints, or the teaching style of the trainer, that could result in an under performing employee. Firing should be a last resort. So you should make sure that you’ve exhausted all other options first.

Remember: criticism without solutions could be more discouraging than helpful.

Have you received a second opinion?

Reach out to someone else on the management team, a trusted colleague or someone in HR who can give you a second opinion on the matter. Don’t make a decision until you’ve spoken to someone that you can trust. They can give you an unbiased second opinion. An outside perspective can help you determine whether or not you’re being fair.

Should the employee get another chance?

If you followed the above, you may begin to feel justified in firing this employee. But this is obviously a last ditch effort. If you’re not sure if you should continue to try and coach the employee further, answer the following questions via Harvard Business Review.

Is the employee meeting all of his job requirements and expectations?

Managers rarely refer back to a job description after screening resumes. It’s the same for employees. Sometimes issues with an individual distracts from the important bottom line: are they getting the job done? Are they doing the job efficiently and effectively? With excellence? Or did they over promise upon hire and under deliver?

A job description doesn’t necessarily define the role. Their duties could have evolved since signing on. Look at the original job description, edit where you see necessary,  and reflect on the way the employee fills that role.

Someone who isn’t doing their job fully is a drain on your whole team and shouldn’t be tolerated, period. Their employment should be terminated.

Can the market supply a better employee at the same price?

How hard would it be to replace the person you’re considering letting go? It’s scary to take the leap without an appropriate replacement lined up. It takes a lot of time, energy and resources to find someone that will have the right skills and experiences to fill a position.

It can be draining on your resources initially to find a replacement and train them properly. But you may find that the replacement will bring a new skill set, better work ethic, and a different perspective to your team. There are talented employees looking to fill roles everywhere. You’ll have to trust the process and take a leap of faith.

If the employee resigned, would you fight to keep them?

HBR refers to this question as the final litmus test. If you reframe your thinking toward the way you’d feel if the employee hypothetically left, you may get your answer as to whether or not it’d be best to go forward with the process. Are you hanging on to the devil you know rather than risking high quality employees?

Rules for Firing Employees

No Surprises

You shouldn’t catch an employee off guard with a notice of termination. There will be moments that led up to the firing they can look back on when proper disciplinary action has been undertaken along the way. Paperwork is everything for a manager. As mentioned before, you’ll need a paper trail for all disciplinary action taken and for instances where the employee’s behavior or negligence your company.

Don’t leave it up to these incidents, either. There will come a point when you’ll need to make it clear: if things don’t improve, the employee will be terminated.

Face-to-Face Only

Just because this person is no longer working for you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat them with respect. Business texting is professional in many cases, but firing is not one of them. There’s also no lessons in email etiquette for employee termination because it is never appropriate. Plan a one-on-one meeting and have this uncomfortable conversation face-to-face. No other way would be appropriate.

Don’t Bother with Lengthy Rationale

An explanation shouldn’t be necessary if you’ve taken the proper steps in documenting issues and disciplinary actions along the way. The employee will be well aware of the action and inaction leading up to this point. An employee termination is one of the most uncomfortable conversations you’ll have as a business owner. You don’t want to draw it out and the other person doesn’t want it drawn out, either.

No Apologies and No Negotiations when Firing Employees

Of course you’re sorry that you have to fire this person. Good managers put  lot of effort into training and communicating with their staff so that they will be able to thrive within the company. You don’t wan’t to fire them. But this isn’t the time for apologies. You must make very clear that this is a final decision. Don’t allow them to discuss second chances, because your documentation will show that they’ve already had second, third and even fourth chances.

You may need to remind them of the rehiring former employees policy that you have in place.

Collect Company Property and Revoke Access to Information Systems

It’s important to collect company property immediately. This includes access cards to the building, keys, badges, etc. It is also well advised to collaborate with the tech staff ahead of time so that access to information systems and email will be restricted by the time the conversation is over.

This may seem a little harsh. But it’s necessary. Not everyone takes criticism well. And the ultimate criticism is being fired from a job. There are too many horror stories of people sending out negative company-wide emails following their termination. Knowing that there are worse things that a terminated employee may do, it’s best to be safe.

Minimize Contact with Coworkers

This also may seem a little harsh. But it falls in line with the same notion as the last rule. You have to play it safe to miniize workplace drama that could erupt after an employee is fired.

Who remembers this classic scene from the 1996 film, Jerry Maguire?

We can’t have that, can we?

Use a Checklist

Make sure that you cover all of your bases when it comes time for firing employees. With  the pressure and emotion of the ordeal, it can be hard to remember all of the steps that need to be taken. It’s normal to use a checklist in this situation. has a very thorough Checklist for Employment Termination. It includes the general tasks you’ll need to do before, after and during the process.

Overall, Firing Employees Should be Brief.

No apologies, lengthy rationale, or negotiations are needed, so it shouldn’t be a very long conversation. According to, it should be really brief.

firing employees script

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You may want to say something additional. But I suggest that you follow the guidelines of a larger corporation and have a very scripted, brief statement similar to this. Corporations are sure to not say much in fear of being sued, and small business owners may take the same precautions.

Apply this to your small business

Well, not right away. Hopefully you’re not looking to fire someone right now. But when the time comes, you can keep in mind the appropriate procedures. Remember, most importantly: document everything!