Human Resources
 min read

9 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Letting An Employee Go

Letting an employee go can be one of the most difficult decisions managers have to make. Learn 9 questions to ask yourself before letting an employee go.

Letting an employee go can be one of the most difficult decisions managers have to make. Unfortunately, as a manager or owner of a company, you often have to make such difficult decisions. If you’re someone who believes in fair treatment of employees, then making this decision is made even tougher since you have to go through so many factors to make sure that you’re making the right decision.

On the surface, it’s easy to simply ask an underperforming employee to leave. Fire away the employee who comes late, fire away the employee who missed a crucial deadline or fire away an employee who is disgruntled. In reality though, it’s not that easy. There are multiple factors at play - from legalities to HR policies, from getting to know the truth of the matter to evaluating performances and reviews, from analyzing the severity of the matter to making the decision, the list is endless. So it’s not a case of simply letting go - but rather one that requires extensive thought and fair understanding of the situation.

If you’re currently facing a situation where you’re thinking to let an employee go, then the following 9 questions may help you make the right decision.

What are the Legalities

In many democratic countries, employees have the right to contend their termination in a court of law. So before you let an employee go, get a review from your HR or from your legal team (especially if the employee is high profile). Make sure it isn’t a case of discrimination in any form as employees may use this to contend the decision. Could the employee assume that they are being terminated based on race, religion, sexual orientation, political stance or similar? If there are any slight chances of this, you may be in for a legal problem. Of course, you aren’t letting them go based on these factors, but it is something they may assume, so make sure you get witnesses or a legal team to look into this matter.

Is There Termination Protection?

Is your employee protected from termination through any law? This is applicable in the cases of safety laws where employees who have been injured at work are protected from termination. Or is your employee suffering from any physical ailment that does not hinder his work but makes you uncomfortable? Or are they suffering from a disability that you cannot accommodate? All these questions should also be looked into separately.

Were They Provided Chances for Improvement

When it comes to termination due to work performance or lack of skills, careful analysis must be made. This is a grey area where employees can fight for their rights if you don’t have evidence or witnesses to back up your cause for termination. Before you fire employees based on work performance or professional behavior, ask yourself these questions:

  • Has the employee been given enough chances to improve their performance? Were these chances, warnings or retributions given in writing?
  • Was the employee given three warnings prior to an elimination?
  • Was the employee given the right tools and training methods to do their best?
  • Were they given the chance to work on their weak skills and prove themselves?
  • Most importantly, are they disgruntled because of their immediate boss?
  • What if you are that boss causing them to feel disturbed?
  • Is there a problem that you can fix as a manager or supervisor?

These questions should have detailed answers attributed with examples and case points so that the employee cannot turn the tables. Of course, you will hear them out and understand their case, but you don’t want to face their defensive brunt without evidence of your claims. Remember, when it comes to eliminating an employee based on performance and behavior, the more evidence, the more witnesses, the better.

Is it Because of Management?

Some employees underperform because they are not happy with their bosses or are having a hard time working with them. If you want to be fair, you need to start investigating with the employee’s direct supervisor. What do they have to say about the employee? What are their main concerns and what have they done to improve the situation? Is it really the employee who has a problem or is it the supervisor nurturing a bias? Remember, it’s never just about an employee - it’s mostly to do with company culture or a boss at work who doesn’t give an employee the chance to excel.

Is it Personal?

This may sound quite weird, and you may not even realize it but take a closer look. Are you letting the employee go because of any personal conviction? Do you dislike the employee’s personality? Do you find them offensive or repulsive? Do you think they are annoying or unable to maintain an office persona that you require? Do you want to remove them even though they are doing the right job? If you said YES to all of these questions, then the termination would be purely on personal basis and is not ethical nor recommended. In the long run, this decision may become a legal issue especially if you don’t have any evidence to back up your claims. Never let an employee go because of a personal conflict of interest.

Am I Providing Him with Training?

Some people can work best with a bit of motivation and confidence. If you haven’t been motivating your employee to do his best, then he has probably become complacent to the point of, “I don’t care enough.” Did he get his fair share of tasks and challenges that could help him with his job? Or is he getting tasks beyond his scope and expertise, which have led to his underperformance. Employers often overlook this lack of skill development and instead focus on performance. You will get disappointment if you ask a fish to jump a tree. Instead, equip the fish with the right skills to travel oceans and you won’t need him to jump the tree. At the end of the day, it’s all how you have managed to have his skills developed and give his best performance.

Is My Company Culture Toxic?

This may be a tough answer for an HR person, a boss, or a manager when contemplating an employee’s behavior. Do you have a toxic company culture? Is the employee receiving fair treatment from senior management or from his employer? Do you have harassment cases in the office? Before eliminating an employee, it is necessary for you to take a look at company culture. You could be in the blind of your company’s own culture, which could be bad at the employee level. So the best strategy would be to get an objective view of your company and figure out why your employee became so disgruntled, complacent or non-performing.

Why is the Employee Underperforming?

There are plenty of cases where once excellent employees become negative and underperforms. They may have marital problems, health issues both mental or physical, a tragedy, a family problem or anything else that may have had an impact on the employee. Of course, it’s not your concern about the employee’s problems - don’t we all have problems? But it helps to know what they are going through so you may not make a decision without looking at it from all angles. If for example, you let the employee go, where else can they work? Can they find a suitable career after this? These questions may sound idealistic as you shouldn't really be bothered, but you don’t want to unnecessarily or unintentionally ruin someone’s life because you could not train them to do their jobs better.

Have You Taken a Look at it from All Angles?

You can go through the various steps of firing an employee and figuring out if you’ve looked at every angle and made the right decision. Did you find out if there are any legal repercussions? Did you go through the various aspects of discrimination and try to figure out any loopholes? Did you try to find out enough information about the employee and what problems they are facing at work? And lastly, do you have enough evidence to let an employee go.

Arguably, you may not be able to go through each of the question in detail, but it would be best if you were able to get the basics because it would be very difficult to let an employee go without substantial information. Unlike the past, employees today are well aware of their rights and are not afraid to practice it as needed. You would not want to land in legal trouble if you don’t do your homework. So if you are planning to let an employee go and have a tough decision to make, these questions will help you do it right.

Jose Leon
Verified writer

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