Terminating an Employee: Positive Move? (Part 1)

Posted by Matt Berringer on September 29, 2011

By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga

Can terminating an employee be a good thing? Truthfully, it can be, but only in specific instances. You must ensure that the termination is unavoidable and justified. Second, you must ensure that the results gained by the termination outweigh the negative impact.

You need to understand that terminating an employee will require a large investment of time and thought on your part. I would suggest that this activity is the most exhausting that anyone in a leadership position will face, regardless of the reason.

Terminating an employee will absolutely send a resounding message to the remaining staff. Initially, regardless of the reason, the message will be negative. Some employees may feel that you are being too harsh to the employee in question. Some employees may feel that they will be next on the chopping block. Ensure that your actions are warranted and eventually the initial shock will wear off and things will return to normal.

Know that there are many things to consider when pursuing a termination. Some things, you must consider for legal reasons, others you must consider for the sake of your continued development as an effective leader.

As I mentioned earlier, pursuing a termination can be exhausting. As such, care must be taken to ensure that your decision is carried out properly. Even in the case of an at-will employee, where you can literally terminate for no reason, you must tread carefully. Believe me when I say that you will be watched by others as to how you carry yourself during such situations. To a certain extent, you will be watched to see how you treat your employee throughout the process. You might even feel like your decision is being questioned. Is this fair? Of course, after all, you are affecting someone’s livelihood. Is this avoidable? I would suggest that it is, but only if you take the time to ensure that your decision is a sound one and carried out appropriately.

In this first part of my blog, I will speak of whom to terminate and whom not to terminate. It may seem easy to say, “Terminate your problem employee,” however, there is more to consider. In the second part of my blog, I will focus on whom to consult and when. Consulting with the right people will lead to your decision being a sound one, which should avoid your leadership coming into question.

Whom Not To Terminate:

  • An employee that lacks knowledge. It is your responsibility to enhance your staff knowledge base through training and guidance. If you want them to know something specific, take them under your wing and teach them.
  • An employee that is struggling with a serious illness. Work with each of these individuals as much as possible. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you like to lose your job and health insurance while you are so vulnerable? Try to temporarily spread the workload among the rest of your staff. In most cases, if the illness is severe enough, the individual will not be released to return to work by his or her physician so termination would not be necessary. If your employee recovers and returns to work, he or she will be extremely grateful that you provided support during a very difficult time. Terminating an ill staff member, even if they are out of eligible leave can send a very negative message to the rest of your staff. Supporting your employee, however, will reflect positively on you as a leader.
  • Individuals that are visibly trying their absolute best to meet your expectations. Again, provide training and guidance. If they just can’t meet your expectations see if you can reassign the individual to other duties or another department that matches their skill level. Terminating someone that is genuinely trying can hurt your reputation as a leader.
  • Individuals that have made some mistakes. It is your responsibility, as a leader, to provide the guidance, training, and support that will lead to the minimizing of errors.
  • Individuals that you are angry at or dislike. Negative personal feelings should never drive you to act, especially to terminate. Others will see your anger and judge your leadership.

Whom Should You Terminate?

  • Individuals that have clearly violated a policy that requires termination. For example, I have had to terminate an employee for theft.
  • An individual that fights your directives and expectations, even after you have provided documented directives, staff development, and guidance.
  • Individuals that have continued abrasive or negative attitudes and do not comply to your directives for corrected behavior. These individuals can make the workplace miserable for everyone.
  • Individuals that do not believe in your vision or goals and cannot be persuaded to adhere to your directives. These individuals will serve only to undermine or sabotage your efforts.

To be continued…

Topics: staff development, education, P-20, Leadership, K-12