HR Basics: The 3 Times You Have to Fire an Employee – and How to Do it

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Sep 23, 2015

Month over month and after several performance reviews, it’s been a pain and even a morale killer to consistently monitor a problem employee’s performance.

You’ve taken corrective action, but when their probationary period is over, those performance issues still remain problems.

Sometimes, there is no alternative option  — company performance standards suffer, revenue drops, and you’re paying for subpar work. Firing an employee isn’t the go-to answer for performance concerns, but after exhausting all other options, it’s necessary.

It’s not an easy task for managers, and it is just as anxiety-ridden for them as it is for the employees on the other side of the pink slip.

For the managers who are apprehensive about letting a problem performer go, here are a few situations when you should fire an employee and how to address the situation.

1. Consistently subpar performance

As an organization, leaders have defined a company culture based on a number of things, including performance standards. Whether that means regular above and beyond performance or work that barely meets the acceptable minimum, if an employee doesn’t meet the standards they’ve been given, it’s time to reassess their role on the team.

You won’t be alone in letting these under-performers go. Some 16 percent of employee terminations last year were due to consistent poor performance. There will be instances of under-performance, but these extenuating circumstances won’t account for elongated periods of bad work.

When you have the employee in your office ready for their ultimate dismissal, be ready. Just as with a performance review, you need to have prepared ahead of time with examples of the unchanging behavior (along with the proper paperwork).

Underline the consistent issues in past performance reviews so they understand what to fix with their next employer. Use your review history to stay compliant and show a pattern of low performance.

2. Unresponsive to corrective discipline

Regardless of the rigidity of the performance stipulations, when a team member consistently chooses not to react to the feedback they’ve been given, there’s a problem. After resources have been spent giving the under-performer additional training, it might be time to hire an individual who can get the job done and done right.

As Warren Buffett said:

One thing I don’t like is when I have to make a change in management, when I have to tell somebody I think somebody else can do a better job.”

After you’ve given employees ample training opportunities and they continue with no improvement, tell them they’ve met the wrong side of the ultimatum. Their performance didn’t meet company standards even after development opportunities. They need to understand that they were given the chance to rectify their behavior, but they no longer fit the role.

3. Their unproductive behavior behavior is contagious

It’s the water cooler effect — an employee who is actively not on task during work will attract others to the notorious water cooler.

In fact, 50 percent of employees say their work performance and productivity are directly affected by their co-workers. Traced to the inability to meet deadlines based on the work of others, unproductive employees leave their mark on the office and those around them.

Robin Adwar, Leadership and Business Consultant, said:

Employees who under-perform reflect their work ethic to their peers; managers who under-perform reflect to their peers and subordinates and ultimately create a less productive organization.”

While in the termination meeting, explain to the employee how they aren’t truly fit for the role. Perhaps they are better fit in another company culture, but in a company that has performance demands they consistently don’t meet, it’s a problem for both ends of the table. Encourage them to find an organization they fit culturally and functionally.

While it might be uncomfortable to fire an employee, repeated under-performance and neglect to change call for removal.

Because the behavior is contagious, it’s important to stop the problem before it becomes a major issue. Clearly explain to the trouble team member their shortcomings and why they no longer fit in the organization functionally. Follow the patterns in their performance reviews for examples of poor performance.

Remember, there are extraneous circumstances that can affect performance, but there is rarely an excuse for long-term poor work behavior.