How Do You Know When It's Time to Fire Someone?

Ask Brad: Some Specific Dos and Don'ts to Minimize What's Always an Awkward Encounter

By Published on .

Figuring out when and how to fire someone rank as some of the most difficult challenges any manager will face. Some instances are easy: Stealing, illegal workplace behavior and breaking sacred company rules all clearly are reasons to let someone go.

What is more difficult to determine is whether an underperforming employee should be let go. This may sound radical, but I don't think agencies and even marketers fire enough underperforming employees. We tend to be a bit too nice. We give people sixth, seventh and eighth chances. We pass along problems to someone else: "Hey, Rob's not working out on our team, but I think he'd be great on your business."

The longer an underperformer stays on as an underperformer, the longer your business will suffer. It's much better to make the call early.

Brad Karsh
Brad Karsh is president of JobBound and JB Training Solutions. He spent 15 years at Leo Burnett in Chicago.
That being said, how do you know what warrants a firing?

As soon as you notice a behavior that's not working, let your employees know. If it persists, tell them again -- and describe consequences for the behavior.

Inform them -- in writing -- that if they continue with the behavior, it will cost them their jobs. Make sure you loop in HR any time you have an issue that makes it to the possible firing stage.

Then give them time -- usually 30 days -- to get their houses in order. If you don't see noticeable changes, then it's time to pull the trigger.

If you've done your due diligence as a manager -- you've given direct and honest feedback, documented the poor behavior, and clearly articulated the consequences -- firing an employee generally should not come as a shock.

Nevertheless, it's almost always an awkward encounter. Here are some specific dos and don'ts when it comes time to fire an employee:


While you may hesitate to ruin the guy's weekend, in actuality, 4:45 p.m. on Friday is indeed the best time. You want the employee to have a weekend to let it sink in instead of having him realize he's not going to work the next day. You also want to cause the least disruption at work. And let's be honest, a guy walking the halls with his Nerf hoop, Successories poster and melon-scented Yankee Candle crammed into a file box is not a pretty sight.


You should always fire someone with another employee (preferably HR) in the room. That way there is a "witness" in case the employee makes some unwarranted claim, such as "I was told I was fired because my clothes weren't sexy enough for the office."


There's no reason to extend the pain. Say what you need to say and end the conversation. No one wants to be there longer than they need to. "Phil, based on your poor performance, we are going to have to let you go. I know this probably isn't what you want to hear, but we are at a point where we need to move forward. Today will be your last day in the office. Please pack up your belongings and plan to be out of the office no later than five." That's it. No more is really needed unless there are other procedural points to be discussed.
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