Employees often fire themselves. Setting aside the employee who deserves to be terminated for cause –theft, sexual harassment, drunkenness, and so on – small business owners are often stressed about when to determine an employee has no future.

Behavior issues generally won’t get better with time. If there is a problem with attendance or tardiness, for example, experience shows the employee won’t change. You might go through the motions of warning and counseling, but you have to weigh what’s at stake here.

  • If you honor a policy of verbal and written warnings, you’re boxed by your own procedure into a losing battle. If you have a large enough staff where such policy helps good will, then, follow your own rules. However, any employee so accused will change for the short-term only.
  • If your staff is small, you can’t waste your time on employee development. You need a set of hands, so start the search for a replacement, and once that is in place, terminate the employee. (How you conduct the dismissal is the subject of another discussion.)

Performance issues may be fixed. When an employee isn’t performing the way you need or expect, weigh your options.

  • If the weakness is a skill or ability issue, target it early. For example, if the employee has a problem using Excel spreadsheets, handling a multi-line phone system, or operating a photocopier, determine the degree of difficulty and the re-training necessary. Problems, such as these, are worth the fix and its cost – compared to recruiting, replacing, and training.
  • If the ability issue is related to your product or service, that’s sounds like more of an informational or “knowledge” problem, and it seems you have a managerial and personal need to train to satisfaction.
  • If any weakness puts you and the business in jeopardy, you have to act perfunctorily. For instance, when an employee grossly misrepresents your service or miscalculates the numbers in a contract, you need to determine how soon this ability issue can be corrected. You can’t support an employee who is this kind of burden.

Employers have rights to protect their business. In “right-to-work” states, you can terminate anyone at any time for any reason, with or without cause, with or without explanation. (The employee has the same right.) You made a bad hire, so remove the problem and think about your hiring process.

As a small business owner, you can otherwise terminate employees pretty much without fear – although you are strongly advised to have your documentation in order to defend yourself, if necessary – against unfounded charges from unemployment insurance or workers’ comp claims. You have no deep pockets to target, and, assuming you handle the termination with empathy and charity, you should act rather than wait.


By Steven Schlagel