By Gina Blitstein

Your employees are the backbone of your organization. Ideally, you have a team of well-suited professionals who perform their duties well and reliably while abiding by all company policies. What if, however, you discover that someone employed by your business is not performing up to par, or has significantly violated company rules? An underachieving or unscrupulous employee can quickly and negatively affect your business’ productivity and culture. What can be done to help a struggling employee do a better job – or regain trust in one who doesn’t play by the rules? This guide will help you respond to a troublesome employee, determine whether she should be retained or let go and, if fired, how best to handle the situation.

Some common infractions for which you may consider firing an employee include:

  1. Consistent incompetence
  2. Violation of company policy (especially with regard to harassment, discrimination or confidentiality)
  3. Repeated unexcused absenteeism or tardiness
  4. Physical violence (or threat thereof) in the workplace
  5. Use of (or impairment due to) drugs and alcohol on the job
  6. Commission of illegal acts
  7. Submission of falsified information

Terminating an employee is a major step and one that should not be taken rashly or lightly. As an employer, it’s important that you set your employees up for success. When you do, it will be more evident when someone is under-performing or breaking rules and simpler to articulate the issues that are causing problems on the job.

One of the most effective ways to avoid the extreme step of terminating an employee is to develop a proactive procedure for evaluating and dealing with employee performance that includes these components:

  1. Clearly express expectations for performance from the outset.
  2. Keep lines of communication with employees open so they will feel comfortable telling you about any personal problems or workplace issues that may affect their performance.
  3. Regularly review and assess employee performance.
  4. Quantify any shortcomings based upon the expectations of the position.
  5. Candidly discuss and keep detailed records of performance issues or violations.
  6. Establish and have employee agree – in writing – to taking measurable steps toward improvement.
  7. Determine specific expectations for changes that must be made before termination is imminent.

As an employer, it’s only natural to become personally invested in your employees. You must walk the line between being an understanding, compassionate human being and an assertive, results-oriented professional. Bear in mind that, no matter the reason for the under-performance or misbehavior, this is a professional scenario, not a personal one. Chances are, by the time you are considering termination, the employee is likely as unhappy with his job as you are with his performance.

When and if it comes down to firing time – the employee has failed to improve in the previously agreed-upon ways – these actions will help make the situation as comfortable as can be expected:

  1. Make the termination meeting private and in a comfortable location.
  2. Get to the point of the meeting as soon as possible.
  3. Avoid listing your grievances at this point; the employee’s lack of performance or misdeeds have been previously discussed and documented.
  4. Rather than put another burden on the terminated employee at this time, allow her to take exit paperwork with her to complete and return at a later time.
  5. Avoid becoming emotional, even if the employee demonstrates anger or sadness.
  6. Offer a severance package to help lessen the blow to an employee who may be already struggling under personal burdens.

It’s your responsibility as an employer to be aware of the laws and regulations that govern your employees’ fair treatment and appropriate termination procedures. Consult the U.S. Department of Labor and your state government’s labor department to ensure that you are following all applicable laws pertaining to the termination of an employee.

Follow up the termination with a letter detailing the reason(s) for termination and required exit actions, such as returning company-owned equipment or clearing out an office. The letter should also remind the ex-employee of non-disclosure agreements or other contractual obligations.

If at all possible, sever the professional relationship on the best possible terms. If the main issue was that he lacked certain skills or was a poor fit for your company (rather than being an overall poor employee), offer to give him a recommendation to a new employer as to the attributes he did bring to the job.

Firing an employee is a stressful situation. It’s better for all concerned, however to put an end to a toxic relationship rather than suffer through it. If done with care and consideration, a termination can make room for an employee who’s a more appropriate asset to your business while affording the former employee the opportunity to find more suitable employment.

Gina Blitstein combines her insight as a fellow small business owner with her strong communication skills, exploring topics that enhance your business efforts.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank.