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10 Ways to Know It’s Time to Let an Employee Go

Letting an employee go can be a long, expensive process. It’s usually preferable to tell your employees what’s not working, and expect them to correct their own behavior.

However, certain warning signs can help indicate when terminating someone’s employment is the best option.

1. Refusing to make Changes

Your first reaction to almost every problem on this list should be a private conversation with the employee in which you encourage them to correct their behavior. If they show no sign of improvement moving forward, it’s probably time to let the employee go.

2. Tardiness

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The most frequent indicator of a potential problem employee is failing to show up on time. Allowing this lateness to go uncorrected in even one staff member encourages it in others. The resulting string of tardiness can grind your work to a halt. Be especially wary of employees who arrive late during their first few weeks of work, as the problem is likely to get worse over time.

Don’t be afraid to confront employees who leave early either. It’s never acceptable to expect one’s coworkers to pick up unfinished work.

Sometimes employees have good reasons for arriving late or leaving early. For example, employees who work two jobs might have trouble commuting. If possible, try to work with the employee to design a better schedule for both of you and make sure that your expectations for them are clear from the outset.

3. Frequent Absences

It doesn’t make sense to pay someone who isn’t coming to work. Before you take action, always try to find out why the employee is not showing up. They might be having personal issues, or simply not understand their schedule. However, if an employee continues to call out without reasons or with obvious excuses, it’s time to look for a replacement.

Of course, this is doubly true in the case of employees who fail to call in at all. Emergencies do happen, but you should treat repeated absences of this nature as grounds for termination.

4. Toxicity

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Individuals who persistently argue with or demean other members of the staff should be asked to leave. Constant negativity over long stretches of time can have a disastrous effect on workplace morale. It’s important to curb such behavior before other employees start to feel frustrated.

Similarly, take note of how your employees interact with customers or clients. In particular, you should issue warnings to anyone who receives direct complaints. Even if it’s unintentional, consistent rudeness will drive down business in any industry.

5. Poor Teamwork

It can take a while for new employees to become comfortable with their coworkers. However, if an employee continually fails to communicate and work with their team, it might be time for you to talk to them.

Staff members who refuse to shoulder group responsibilities damage the productivity of the workplace as a whole. It’s better to let them go than risk forcing additional work on the rest of your employees.

6. Dishonesty

Trust is the foundation of any successful social relationship, and the workplace is no exception. Employees who constantly lie about or take credit for the work of others undermine this sense of trust. Tolerating this behavior can result in other employees feeling victimized, powerless, and discouraged.

Lying to customers or clients is an even more serious matter. Unless the lie was a genuine mistake, employees who misrepresent your company should always be asked to leave. Failing to do so could open your business to ethical or legal liability.

7. Missing Deadlines

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Failing to complete projects on time demonstrates a lack of respect for both coworkers and the company as a whole. Worse, if you tolerate unreliable behavior, it sends the message to other employees that failing to fulfill their responsibilities is acceptable. For that reason, individuals who miss deadlines should be met with a clear verbal warning as soon as possible.

8. Obvious Apathy

Even people who like their jobs can struggle to appear energetic and on-task. For others, it seems like a constant struggle to do even the bare minimum. Letting these apathetic employees persist in their behavior can undermine their coworkers’ morale.

In severe cases, uncorrected behavior of this nature might even merit letting the employee go, particularly if their apathy is evident in the work they are doing.

9. Misuse of Workplace Resources

It can be easy to misuse or waste company resources without realizing it. In those cases, a clarification of company policy is in order, along with a stern warning that those who persist will be fired.

On the other hand, deliberately stealing company property should be grounds for immediate termination regardless of the circumstances.

10. Undermining Supervisors

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In general, employees should report to their immediate supervisors. Unfortunately, some employees will disregard this, and go over their manager’s heads to get things done. Staff members who continually jump the chain of command create disorder in the workplace, and waste the time of senior managers. You should explain the standard procedure to the employee the first time this happens. The next time, it’s probably right to show them the door.

Ethical and legal concerns are an important exception to this rule. Employees should never be reprimanded or fired for complaints along those lines.

Conclusion

The most important part of any discipline policy is credibility and clarity. If workplace policies are undefined, or seem like suggestions instead of rules, employees are unlikely to follow them—and it’s difficult to hold someone accountable for an expectation they weren’t made aware of.

Although a first warning is almost always appropriate, employees should be shown that you are serious about your expectations. The best way to do this is clearly articulate policies, and follow through on warnings.

Fortunately, most employees don’t need this kind of personal attention to motivate them. Letting even one bad apple go demonstrates that you care about the workplace and employee happiness.

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    After graduating from law school and passing the bar, I struggled to find work, pay my bills, and make ends meet. That's when I decided to take control of my future and start working for myself. Now, several years and a handful of companies later, I'm sharing how I launched a successful business, and how you can do it too.

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