It’s Not a Good Fit

“When I fire someone, I just tell them it’s not a good fit. But do I need to tell them anything?”

Your HR Survival Tip

California and several other states have an at-will employment law. This means either you or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, with or without notice. That’s the letter of the law. However, how it plays out in court is very different. In reality, it’s only the employee who has that much freedom.

As the employer, you really do want a reason… a legal reason… when firing someone. You also want to give the employee that reason. If you don’t, they will make up their own reason and it will likely put you in a bad light. The employee will give “their” reason when filing for unemployment, when interviewing elsewhere, and possibly when talking with an attorney. Why would you want to be in that position when it’s not necessary?

Be honest. You can usually tell if someone’s not a good fit within the first 30 days. Even then, there are specifics about why they aren’t a good fit. They don’t get along with their coworkers, they aren’t a team player, they aren’t on time for work, they prefer doing things their way instead of your way, they don’t communicate well, etc. It may take a while longer before you know whether or not they can actually do the work but that’s a little different.

If you have a problem employee, you should be having weekly meetings with them about the issues you’re seeing and what your expectations are for changes. The first discussion is just that, a conversation. If you need to talk again about the same problem, recognize you may not be providing the information in a manner they “hear.” Some people are great at hearing and understanding something, others are visual and want to review it in writing, and some do best when physically doing the work instead of watching you do it. Don’t assume they are just being stubborn. Ask them how they would best understand and retain the information.

So, if the first conversation didn’t get the results you want, try having another conversation and having the employee provide you a written summary afterward. If that doesn’t help, ask them to do the work while you watch so you can see where and when the problem happens. Bottom line, you want this employee to recognize there really is a problem that needs correcting. Without that recognition, they will assume they are doing good work.

If none of your attempts have worked and you’re ready to fire them, ask yourself what HR would ask: Let me see what’s in their employee file (written documentation). Tell me about the conversations you’ve had with the employee (demonstrating you’ve actually tried to correct the problem). Have you told the employee their job is at risk if the problem isn’t fixed?

The worst type of firing is when the employee is surprised they are being fired. At that point, they should be expecting it and only the timing is a surprise. By the time you’re ready to fire, you should be able to provide them with the simplest, most legal reason for being let go. We are not in favor of putting that reason in writing simply because it can get twisted if not perfectly written and there is just no legal need to put it in writing. It is sufficient that you are able to articulate the reason in one sentence: You are consistently late to work and we have told you why it’s important but you continue to arrive late at least twice a week. You are creating problems at the job site because you are insubordinate with your supervisor even though you know this is not tolerated. You are not working at the pace needed for this position and it’s resulting in work being completed late and affecting our project deadlines. When interviewing, you said you know how to use this software but it’s been 3 months and you have not demonstrated that knowledge. As you are aware, we have worked with you to change certain behaviors but we haven’t seen the changes last more than a week or two and we are done trying.

While this is an at-will state, assume you can’t use that defense. Instead, do a better job of managing employee performance so you aren’t putting the company at risk with a weak excuse for firing an employee. When it becomes inevitable you’ll need to fire that employee, work on what you’ll say in that one sentence to provide the simplest, most legal reason.

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