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I pose a simple question — When should you fire an employee?

Your answers, at first, may be simple: When they steal. When they lie. When they physically fight with another employee.

Then, you might start to add a few more: When they are absent from work. When they don’t do their job. Or don’t do their job well.

Sounds easy enough.

In reality, we know that it’s much harder. An employee who has been with you for 60 days isn’t necessarily going to be treated the same as a 10 year employee.

And when it comes to job performance, what’s the standard by which you’re going to measure it? How much guidance is enough before you say “enough”? Should the employee get coaching? A warning? Two warnings? A last-chance meeting?

As you start to think about it further, you realize that even the answers that seem simple may require something more: For the employee who has been absent, you might ask: Why?

Perhaps the employee is grieving the loss of a close friend. Or perhaps it is something else that they don’t want to talk about.

Ask anyone who has had to fire an employee and the only clear answer is this: Firing someone is tough. As much as you can stick with facts and support your decision, at the end of the day, employees are people. People with real families. People with homes. And people with other real-life problems. Decision-makers want to get the decision right above all else.

I try to explain that sometimes to attorneys who write pithy letters to companies complaining that the company cavalierly dismissed the employee; I very rarely see that happen.

But that doesn’t mean an employer shouldn’t think about the process and figure out best practices.

Overall, termination decisions should be considered and reconsidered. Sure, not every employee deserves to be retained. But I go back to something I’ve said before on the blog — if you told the story to a neighbor, would they think the decision is fair? If you answer that in the affirmative, then you’ve done your homework.