How to Break Up with an Employee

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So, around Valentine’s day, I wrote a blog about how hiring is like dating. Here’s the other side: firing is like breaking up. There are a lot of reasons to fire

A wadded paper projectile is one way to break up with an employee

A wadded paper projectile is one way to break up with an employee

someone. The employee might not be living up to performance expectations. He might blatantly neglect his work. She might have violated company policy. Or maybe the person just bugs the crap out of you. Maybe she makes a strange snorting noise when she talks or he literally references Star Trek at every decision point.

Can you fire someone for that? Of course! Texas is an Employment-At-Will state. You can pretty much fire anybody you want whenever you want as long you’re not firing the person because he or she is in a protected class or because he or she refused to sleep with you.

You can even do it the total chicken route: Don’t be in the room when it happens. Go on vacation. Assign it to an underling. Write the proverbial Dear John letter, a pink slip delivered by an employee who has no choice. Heck you can even fire someone via text. Of course this is not the most sophisticated approach. And remember, if you break up via text you are sort of universally labeled bad names. Remember Taylor Swift?  You could have a song written about you. But it’s still on the options list.

There are, of course, more sophisticated options. First, you could actually document what’s happening with the employee for a while before firing him or her. If the employee violates something that’s down on paper, that’s a pretty clear case for firing.  While we’re on the subject, do you have a job description? I mean, a really thorough one? I know I harp on this all the time but if someone isn’t complying with a clearly written job description, that makes it easier.

Second, you could give the person a warning, especially if he or she is just annoying. Just call the employee in and say “I just need to tell you, your Will Ferrell as Elf imitations are starting to really grate on people and I need you to stop.” Then write down everything that happens in that meeting.

Why do you have to do this if you can fire at will? Well, for one thing, the person might be in a protected class. If that’s the case and you haven’t documented your process, you could find yourself in trouble with the EEOC. Secondly, if you don’t show cause, the person can file an unemployment claim which costs you a lot of money because your unemployment taxes could go up. Thirdly, if this person knows a lot about your company and you don’t have good NDAs in place, well, crazy stuff can happen.

You saw Fatal Attraction, right?

When you do have to let someone go, make sure you have all that information in front of you and let them know whether you expect them to leave immediately or they have time before they go. Give them a document telling them what will happen with their pay, earned vacation, insurance. etc. And be prepared for all kinds of reactions.

Nobody–except maybe some sociopaths–enjoys firing people as a rule. But it is a part of being a manager or business owner. Just tell yourself you’re doing this for the good of the company, fortify yourself with a muffin or whatever helps, and get it over with. We can’t really recommend you listen to Neil Sedaka sing “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” But that’s up to you.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.

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