When Should You Fire an Employee?


As a small business owner, you can’t afford to take risks when it comes to hiring the right employees. Sometimes, however, you make a mistake and you hire someone who you shouldn’t have. When is it time to fire this employee? Here are a few guidelines for how to go about dealing with inefficiency in the workplace and few cues that it’s time to pull out the old extinguisher.

Seek an Understanding

You’ve discovered a problem with one of your employees. Whether they’ve been slow to get their work done, been unable to get along with other employees or done something that particularly upset you, it’s important to understand the issue before moving forward. If an employee hit a cold patch in their work efficiency, is it because of a personal issue or is it due to a general dissatisfaction with the work that he or she has been given?

Still have questions? Check this out: Consultant’s Corner — Firing an At-Will Employee

You hired this person for a reason so maybe they can bounce back in time with proper management controls in place. Next, go ahead and set up a meeting, either in private or with whichever other employees are involved, to try and settle the issue before it gets any worse.

Consider Your Options

Once you have met with the employee or employees dealing with the problem, you should ask yourself a few common questions before deciding to fire or keep someone on staff. Is this a problem that can be resolved if it hasn’t already been? Some interpersonal problems can be resolved quite easily if the employee demonstrates a willingness to cooperate, but other issues are far more complicated and may or may not be worth taking the time to resolve. Is this employee easily replaceable or will the cost of hiring a new employee outweigh the risk of letting them go for the time being?

Chances are that if you have already had issues with them in the past, then you will have issues with them in the future, and it’s time to face up to the task of putting an end to it. The bottom line is that if the employee is holding your company back from growing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future then he or she should be let go.

Go Ahead and Do It Already

Letting go of an employee can be very difficult for a small business owner who hired this once young, inspired associate who was full of promise. There could be some emotional attachment that you’ve allowed yourself to develop with your team of employees over the years. Whatever the case, someone has not lived up to your expectations and needs to be fired.

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Be sure to be take care of this in private, behind closed doors, and be up front about it, telling them exactly why you are letting them go and then give them a chance to speak and tell you any last words they might have for you and your future as an organization. Taking it all in stride, do your best to move on and use the experience as an encouragement that you are building a stronger team by letting them go. Sometimes this reinforces confidence in your other employees, who know that you are conscious of who’s working well. By letting go of weak employees, you have shown that you value hard workers.

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Matt Tarkenton

Matt Tarkenton

Matt Tarkenton is Executive Vice President at Tarkenton Companies, and has started several businesses and is interested in business formation, strategy, and growth. He was part of a group that started Renova Partners, a boutique investment bank, and was recognized as a “40 Under 40: Up and Comer” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle in 2009. Matt performs business planning and marketing training for hundreds of professionals across the country, and co-hosts a weekly coaching program on entrepreneurial education. Matt graduated from Princeton University, and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. He maintains his Series 7, 63, and 79 licenses, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Youth Villages, on the Education Committee of the National Association of Fixed Annuities (NAFA), and in leadership positions in various organizations.