Disciplining & Firing Employees

If you’ve ever had to say the words, “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go,” then you know how stressful termination can be for both boss and employer. No one likes to be the reason that someone else is out of a job, but business is business, as they say, and when a company suffers due to the negligence of one employee, that staff member must go.

Disciplining and firing employees is one of the things that company presidents and CEO’s least enjoy about their jobs. It often involves scary legalities, emotional displays and possibly even long-term consequences. It isn’t just about ruining someone’s day; there are forms of recourse that can be taken by the terminated employee that may have a negative affect on your company. The following article will give advice and options to management for both firing and disciplining problem employees.

The Rules

From the get-go, your employees should all understand the rules and regulations for employment with your company, and should be well aware of the consequences for abhorrent behavior. These rules should be written and distributed among all management and labor employees so that there are no questions when it comes time for disciplinary action.

Each rule should be logical and within reason for the job description. Employers who make ridiculous rules and who attempt to enforce inane guidelines are headed for trouble, regardless of the circumstance. Make it clear to everyone that if there are questions about rules – either prior to or during employment – that your door is always open. Never implement a rule behind which you cannot explain the reasoning.

When rules are broken, you should have a clearly defined method of discipline that can apply to all rules, and that will not have exceptions. Not only that, but you must stick to that procedure in every event of discrepancy, no matter the employee or the transgression. This will avoid the “playing favorites” accusation and will make the working environment free of jealousy or hostility.

The list of consequences should be fair and strictly enforced. Here is an example:

1. The first time company policy is breached, a verbal warning is delivered by management.
2. The second time company policy is breached, a warning is delivered in writing and must be signed by the employee.
3. The third time company policy is breached, the employee is subject to a probationary review, which evaluates the extent of the transgression and determines whether or not a solution can be reached.

Each time an employee is warned or put on probation, the incident should be clearly documented in his or her personal file. A paper trail is absolutely necessary in this matter, and all involved parties should write their understanding of the event. This way, if the problem is ever questioned, you have evidence of what occurred and when.

Sometimes, it helps to offer counseling after an employee continues to make the same mistakes. This will also help to determine whether the problem can be solved, and what the reasons are behind the problem. Very rarely do employees simply misbehave; there are usually reasons, and having knowledge of those reasons will help you to evaluate the employee’s worth at your company.

Working Toward a Solution

Don’t be afraid to take an active role in each of your employees’ successes and failures. Establish the fact that each staff member should be constantly working toward a particular goal, and toward performing their job as efficiently as possible. If your employees don’t care about their job or about your company, then they will not be performing up to par for excellence.

Although your rules and consequences should have strictly followed guidelines, you must also remember that every situation is different. There is usually more than one person at fault, and you should take the time to examine the situation from all angles before reaching a conclusion. The employee should still be given consequences, but be as fair as possible before terminating a staff member.

It is also important to be direct with employees. Explain your position, your feelings toward their behavior, and what exactly you desire of them. Tell them that if the situation does not improve, or if they don’t show a desire to resolve the problem, then you will be forced to dismiss them. At that point, outline exactly what you would like to see, and what they can do to rectify the situation.

Review Periods

A file should be kept on each of your employees, and in that file should go any information related to their performance – both good and bad. If you must discuss poor behavior with an employee, write everything down that was mentioned in the meeting and have that employee sign the form to show that the problem was discussed. Again, a paper trail is always necessary.

In addition, each of your employees should undergo a review every six months. Either you or the manager in charge of those employees should conduct the review, and each review should be inserted into the employee file. The following factors should be included in the review:

1. Overall attitude toward job and work.
2. Aspects of job that require improvement.
3. Successes during previous six months.
4. How employee works with other staff members.
5. Whether or not a raise or bonus is warranted.

Giving your employees bi-annual reviews will serve two purposes: 1) It will help you to evaluate how your employees are doing; and 2) Employees will have a chance to earn a raise.

When an employee is on probation, you may choose to evaluate performance more frequently, perhaps each month.


Unfortunately, some employees will not work out. Maybe they simply aren’t qualified to perform their job, or perhaps they have a poor attitude. Whatever the reason, if the employee does not improve after the probationary period, then you will be forced to replace them.

In 99.9% of cases, this process can be quick and devoid of shouting or lecturing. If you plan to let an employee go, there is no reason to make it more difficult for yourself or for the employee. Simply explain why you have to let them go, and that your decision is effective immediately. Avoid going into detail about what other employees have said, what you have observed or what you suspect may be happening. Limit your reasons to factors that can be proven through your paper trail.

Different states have varying laws when it comes to termination. Some states, called “right-to-work” states, do not require a valid reason for termination. Others require significant proof that the employee was behaving negligently or in direct opposition to company policy. If you work and reside in those states, then you must give the employee your exact reason for termination.


Many employers make the mistake of firing an employee three weeks before the termination will be effective. Doing this out of kindness or out of ignorance will only create problems within your company. The employee will lack any motivation whatsoever to properly do his or her job, and may create problems for other employees or for officers.

I have found that it is best to terminate an employee immediately. If this means giving the employee compensation for work he will not complete, it is worth it in the long run. You must also consider the expiration or revocation of benefits, and discuss all of these factors with the employee.


It is extremely important that, before the terminated employee leaves your premises, he or she returns any keys or company equipment to you or to other personnel. It is equally important that access codes or passwords to which he or she had access are immediately changed. If the employee possessed signature power at the bank, make sure that it is immediately withdrawn, and that any credit cards are returned.

If you don’t already, have a checklist in every employee’s file that contains the following data:

1. Keys
2. Passwords
3. Security Codes
4. Credit Cards
5. Equipment (such as electronics)
6. Work Samples
7. Property

As soon as an employee is given any one of those things, record it in their file so that it can be collected in the event of termination or resignation.


Non-compete clauses are becoming more and more common in employment contracts, and if you company enforces these rules, then you should remind the terminated employee of his or her rights. It is a nasty shock when a terminated employee forms his or her own clone company just down the street and attracts half of your main clients from your business.

This is especially important in creative and service companies. For example, if you run a marketing consulting firm and you fire one of your chief officers, he or she can take your ideas and strategies and apply them to building his or her own company. A non-compete clause in your employment contract will eliminate this possibility.

Amicable Termination

There are several ways to make the termination process easier on both yourself and the employee. Unless the employee has done something unforgivable – such as stealing from the company or purposefully botching work – then you might offer him or her a “peace offering” of sorts.

One of the ways to do this is through references. Tell the employee that you are sorry to see them go, but that you will be happy to provide a glowing recommendation for his or her next employer. If you have the resources, you might also offer a severance package that includes payment for a staffing agency to help them find another job. Also, if you know of another company that might be able to use the services of the employee, you might point him or her in that direction.

Regardless of the circumstances, firing an employee is never a pleasant experience, and there are no strict guidelines to ensure a smooth termination. However, if you take the employee’s feelings into account and do your best to make the process as simple as possible, you will be able to survive the experience without threat of legal action and without guilt on your conscience.

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