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How to Fire a Bad Employee

March 18, 2014

By: Carletta Clyatt

Firing an employee is never easy, even if the employee is an unlikable person.  Factor in today’s economy and an employee with a family relying on his/her single income and even Donald Trump may lose sleep over it.  And, if there is ever a time when you want to be extra sure of crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s, this is the time.  Aside from avoiding lawsuits, with social media your name (and that of your company) can be dragged through the mud in mere seconds.


One of the most important things a good employer can do is set clear expectations for employees.  The more specific the policies and the more consistent the management style, the fewer problems and the fewer terminations.  For example, if you have casual Friday’s or a theme styled dress up day, be very clear on the parameters.  If you have a pajama day, spell out what qualifies as pajamas or your office could end up looking like a house in California’s San Fernando Valley prepping for an adult movie shoot.  Clarity is essential in today’s workplace.


Let’s say you have an employee who shows up late regularly, wears unprofessional clothing, skips meetings, spends a good part of her day on Facebook, snaps her gum loudly enough that there have been complaints from other employees, doesn’t make her quarterly sales, and calls in sick after all major party holidays (July 4th, Cinco de Mayo), can you fire her?  That depends.  She makes Homer Simpson look like a model employee, but is she actually breaking any rules?  Have you kept a file on her?  Have you discussed what she needs to improve on and have you followed up?  Did you have her sign paperwork regarding meetings and discussions on her work performance and office behavior?


The most important thing an employer can do is to have an employee handbook that clearly states what is expected of employees.  Furthermore, all employees should be given a copy and required to sign off that they have read it.  This book becomes the bible of the office.  It will clearly define and outline expectations.  For example, it will include policies and procedures for calling in sick.  A doctor’s note may be required for more than two days of missed work.  Appropriate office behavior needs to be clearly defined.  All states have different mandates in regards to employee rights.  In Massachusetts employees can claim conflict with religious beliefs to keep from having to groom their hair.  In California, workers are entitled to ten-minute breaks for every four hours worked.  It is imperative that you know your state’s laws in regards to employment.

To keep your ducks in a row, establish clear procedures for terminating an employee. 

Here are some guidelines:

Voluntary resignation. There is always the option of inquiring as to whether an employee would like to leave on their own terms.  However, they may not be eligible to collect unemployment if they quit voluntarily.  If they do wish to quit rather than be terminated, be sure they put it in writing and that all paperwork is filed properly.  When it is time to terminate, it must be done swiftly to avoid problems, so this may not always be a plausible first option.

Don’t step on toes.  If you work under someone, be sure they are aware of your decision and be sure you have the authority to carry out the termination.

Notify Human Resources.  Before you begin termination proceedings, notify the HR department.

Never fire an employee in anger. Always be sure proper procedure has been followed and never fire an employee in the heat of the moment.  To avoid lawsuits, you must have documentation and be able to show the employee was given an opportunity to improve their performance.

Follow policy!  Follow your company’s written employment policies.  If you own the company, draft clear, concise policies for terminating employees and follow succinctly.

Document, document, document.  There should be a paper trail of all infractions and disciplinary actions.  If there is not evidence of wrongdoing, it leaves room for conclusions of improper motives for termination, which leads to lawsuits.

Honesty is always the best policy.  This is not the time to sugar coat things.  Be direct and forthright.  Most employees are going to be upset upon termination, regardless of the reason.  So, don’t risk your own credibility in an attempt to spare hurt feelings with false explanations, such as the company can’t afford to pay him/her.  Be clear that their performance is unsatisfactory and refer to the paper trail you created and have clearly documented.

Use examples, not general statements.  Do NOT tell someone they are lazy.  Tell them they did not complete tasks in a timely manner.  Do not state that they are unreliable.  State that they did not file three separate reports on time.

Have a witness.  Always have a third party present.  Always.  Have this person take notes.

Termination Letter.  Again, document everything.  If the employee refuses to sign it, note that on the letter.

Keys, Company Property, Exit Strategy.  Be sure all keys and company property is immediately returned.  In some cases, including a security guard in the termination meeting and having them escort the ex-employee out of the building (after keys and company items have been returned) may be necessary.  Although being respectful and courteous is of utmost concern, safety of other employees and company property is of higher concern.

Immediately Terminate Computer Access.  Be sure passwords are immediately changed and all access to company computers and technology is terminated promptly.

Lead by good example and be an effective manager with fair and consistent policies and hopefully you will rarely, if ever, need to employ these termination steps.

Carletta Clyatt

Carletta Clyatt, a popular seminar speaker, is the SVP at The Omnia Group. She offers clients advice on how to manage more effectively and gain insight into employee strengths, weaknesses and behaviors. For more information about employee behavioral assessments, call Carletta at 813-280-3026 or email:

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