It’s a situation no manager, small business owner or HR professional wants to be in.
You finally filled that position. The new hire was great in the interview and references checked out – this is the right person. That department that has been short-handed finally got the person they need to help. But wait – when they got on the job, things changed. They were not the person you thought and their skills are not a match. What’s more, they really don’t fit the company culture and it just isn’t going to work. What can you do? What should be done? Can you fire a bad hire right away?
The simple answer is yes, you can terminate an employee who isn’t performing, doesn’t fit the culture and who doesn’t have the skills to succeed, says human resources consultant, management trainer and speaker Arlene Vernon. But you have to be very sure that you’re not discriminating or it doesn’t look like you’re discriminating, should the person be in a protected class, says Vernon. If the person is in a protected class, you can still terminate, but you want to make sure that you have more documented evidence of the person’s inability to learn and perform the job as protection.
Ron McGowan is a former small business owner turned author and international career consultant who commented on this previous ZipRecruiter article – How to spot a bad hire.
Can you fire a bad hire right away? Yes, says McGowan.
“If I was in this position, I wouldn’t hesitate to fire the individual, but would line up all the legal resources available to me,” he says.
No matter the situation, the first thing you should do is document the actions, behaviors, incidents and communication, says Vernon. That provides evidence the employee failed to meet company’s standards and expectations.
At this point, you should already have some conversations with the employee explaining that there are some issues with performance.
“At least then the termination won’t be a surprise,” says Vernon.
Mark Babbitt, owner of Youtern and author of A World Gone Social, says for many, “gone are the days when we felt compelled to ‘fix’ a hiring mistake,” says Babbitt. “We see that person isn’t who they projected during the interview process. We see that they are not a fit within our company culture. We know, beyond a doubt, that this hiring mistake cannot be fixed and – within the laws of our state – termination is necessary.”
The first step: Owning the mistake, says Babbitt. “As an employer, take full responsibility for what has happened,” he says. “Convey to HR, the department heads, executives and the teams most connected to that person that there is no ill will. We made an error – and we wish that employee nothing but the best. Resist all temptation to bad-mouth or justify the termination. These words often come back to haunt us.”
At the same time, carefully monitor the social media accounts of the company and executives, says Babbitt. Specifically, listen for any direct mention of the company as it relates to this termination. “As you’re doing so, remember that your only goal is to protect the employee brand – and not to defend the termination or to counter any negativity by the now ex-employee,” says Babbitt. “While they vent to their social sphere of influence, no matter how bad the words seem, take the proverbial high
If you’re in an employment-at-will state, the employee is non-union and the employee doesn’t have an employment contract, you typically have the right to terminate the employee with or without reason, cause or advance notice (check your state laws), points out Vernon.
The employee is likely to be shocked with the termination. So you want to be firm but sensitive, says Vernon. There should be two people conducting the termination, because it’s always wise to have a witness to the discussion. This should be a very quick but respectful meeting.
“I always recommend that you pay the employee for all pay owed at the termination meeting, which ensures that in whatever state you reside, you’ve met any timely termination pay requirements,” says Vernon.
Before letting this person go, think it through. Do you see any growth potential? What can you do as a manager or leader to prove this hire the tools or training to succeed?
“There are circumstances where some employees start their learning curve off slowly and end up as great employees,” says Vernon. “But if you know that this employee does not have that potential, it’s best to act swiftly and not drag down the team with someone who will not be successful in the position.”
In these unique circumstances, some companies will pay the employee some separation pay, for example two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice. That helps smooth the exit. With this separation pay, some companies also have the employee sign a separation agreement (legal document written or reviewed by an employment law attorney) whereby the employee agrees not to sue the company by accepting the separation pay.
But in today’s social era, there is much more to this scenario than the legal issues, termination meeting and severance pay, says Babbitt: “Today, we have to consider the impact on in-house morale, what our customers and vendors might think and – perhaps most important – what that soon-to-be ex-employee might project on social media and to his personal network. After all, our employer brand could be adversely affected.”
Babbitt continues: “By owning the mistake, taking the high road and by deliberately protecting the integrity of your employer brand – both your current employees and the outside world will see this termination as nothing but what it is: A corrected hiring mistake.”