You're fired...?
August 22, 2010 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Should we fire our newly-hired employee?

I am the co-owner of a small company (4 people). One of our employees (“Ron”) was hired in Spring 2010 as an office manager. When we hired Ron he was working at another company doing something entirely different. He had no managerial experience and was not looking for a new job but we poached him. Ron was hired because, after hitting it off with him at a networking event, it seemed his people skills would make him a good fit for the position.

We hired him on a ‘freelance’ basis, but wrote a contract essentially saying that we would hire him for 1 year, at a set amount each week. We also wrote in the contract that either party could terminate with 30 days notice. The contract was never signed but both parties have copies.

Ron’s performance has been satisfactory in some areas but in others has been very poor. He does not manage time well, shows no initiative and makes it clear that he feels that certain aspects of his job are beneath him. We feel that we are overpaying him for the work he is doing and that he is not a long term fit for our company.

We have sat him down twice now to let him know that he needs to pick up his act and that we feel he is not doing the job well enough. Our last such meeting was just over a week ago. He expressed to us that, while he enjoys the job, he is feeling unmotivated. We told him that, in order for us to feel comfortable with giving him more important responsibilities, he had to prove that he was capable of the small tasks.. This past week he showed minor improvement.

This morning he sent an email to both directors saying that he feels that he is not being challenged and would like to start taking on aspects of the business that the directors are responsible for. These are not things that he was hired to do, nor will there ever be an opportunity for him to do them.

His email frustrated us considering that we had a serious talk with him a week ago about his performance. It is clear to us that he is not happy with the position as it is and we are not happy with him.

We both want to fire him, as he is not living up to our expectations (or the salary). Our business is relatively slow at the moment, but come October things will get incredibly busy. I would like to get this out of the way now so that we can find a suitable replacement in time.

I feel bad that we hired him away from a job only 4 months ago and part of me thinks that we owe him time to prove himself. On the other hand, I don’t see him ever being able to perform well enough to justify the salary we are paying him or to give him the level of responsibility he’s asking for.

So, folks, what to do? Is there any reason we shouldn’t let him go tomorrow? We were thinking of offering him a choice of either two-weeks severance pay or 30 days notice. Should we just offer him the severance pay and call it a day? Any advice on how to break the news?

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say give him the 30 days, even if the contract wasn't signed it was still an agreement. Whether he works those 30 is or just gets them cash is your choice, but frankly I'd just pay him off and get him out so that you can find a replacement.
posted by atrazine at 1:37 PM on August 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Ok, that wasn't clear at all, yes you should fire him.
posted by atrazine at 1:38 PM on August 22, 2010

It sounds like he has given ample time and opportunity to prove himself. The fact that you sat him down TWICE to tell him he needed to step up should have put the fear of God in him. I would definitely let him go.
posted by gwenlister at 1:39 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is demoting him not an option?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:39 PM on August 22, 2010

If it isn't, go ahead and fire him. You are running a business, and it's not like you haven't given him ample notice that you aren't happy with him.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:40 PM on August 22, 2010

Clean breaks are good things. There's nothing here that says you should give him more time to work things out. Give him the 30 days, if you can afford it, to make a clean break even cleaner.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:40 PM on August 22, 2010

Fire him, having somebody like that in a very small team like yours is even worse than in a large team. He clearly has unrealistic aspirations and has not improved despite having been given plenty of opportunity to do so. Therefore he should go before you guys get too busy to hire and train his replacement.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:49 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

It is definitely time for him to leave. If he is not working out after reasonable attempts to motivate him, he is a liability. It is an unfortunate fact that you must accept, act upon and move on.

Do not give him thirty days notice. If you feel he deserves this much compensation, cut him a check, invite him into the office and discharge him on the spot. Do it on a Monday (never a Friday) and hand him his check once he hands back whatever he has that is specific to the company (keys, car, laptop, etc.). Suggest to him that you will be willing to give him a positive recommendation regarding certain areas of his performance and will choose to remain silent as to others. Wish him well and get him out the door immediately.

If you tell him he is dismissed, but can stick around for thirty days, you are creating thirty days of bad performance and conflict. He doesn't need this and either do you.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:00 PM on August 22, 2010 [10 favorites]

He is negotiating to leave. He is setting his case by asking for more work. Sit down with him and mutually agree that his last payday is 30 days, but you would appreciate that he work for another 2 weeks until you can hire someone else. Sounds like to me the only thing that still needs to be agreed upon is the amount of severance if any. He wants out and you want him out.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:02 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

You gotta let him go. He's not a good fit. 30 days is more than enough notice. If you feel guilty, I'd give him the 30 days as severance and let him go now so that his attitude doesn't spoil the office atmosphere. In fact, whether you feel guilty or not, I think that's the right thing to do. Terminate immediately, have boxes for his stuff ready and a check for the 30 days plus any outstanding.

Also, you shouldn't have poached him. There's so many people looking for jobs right now that have the skillset you need + people skills. I know that's a sidebar but it's something that is personally annoying to me right now. Yes, it's not what you know but who you know. But it sure can be frustrating to watch people who are "buddies" get jobs which you are very qualified for. Especially annoying to hear them bitch about those jobs later! :)

Anyway, good luck. I know you had the best of intentions but for such a small business as yours, it's just crucial that everyone fits together like puzzle pieces.
posted by amanda at 2:09 PM on August 22, 2010

If he's fucking things up, fire him and replace him. Don't get to October and find yourself dealing with the rush while dealing with his nonsense.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:12 PM on August 22, 2010

You don't ever have to fire anyone.

All you need to do is write out his job description, make him sign it, and then whenever he fails to meet the criteria you've given him, you drag him into your office and have him explain himself. Then you make him sign another document stating that he isn't doing his job as required, and that after two more infractions, you'll be expecting his resignation. Most people don't make it past the second office visit -- they just stop showing up, which is as good as any resignation.

Just be aware of the laws in your state. In some places, quitting means you're ineligible for unemployment, so if you're trying to be nice, you can have a frank conversation with him. Basically, "I'll fire you so you can get unemployment, but I want you to sign this paperwork agreeing that you deserve to be fired." In general, make sure you have plenty of paperwork to document your case if he decides later that you were being unfair by making him do his job. Once you give his representative an armful of documents that proves he had job performance issues, and he was made aware of those issues, and he still failed to correct them, you should be alright.

I try not to do management anymore because I can't stand telling people what to do. Effective management is basically babysitting with checklists, which destroys part of my soul. But when you are a manager or an owner, you owe it to the other employees who do work hard and take direction to keep people like that out of your organization. One lazy apple can spoil the bunch.
posted by atypicalguy at 2:15 PM on August 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

Give him the 30, with the option of an earlier leaving date if it suits him. Work out a way to provide a reference that acquits both you and him well.

To me this smacks of crossed communication lines and messed-up assumptions from the outset. Perhaps he considered the office manager job a foot in the door with an eye on doing something more akin to his previous position? Perhaps you might have slightly oversold the prospect of wider responsibilities when you persuaded him to jump ship?

That's by the bye: either way, the job he wants from you is not one you have for him, and it's best to make the break at the "just not into you" stage. He's probably looking for an exit strategy himself.
posted by holgate at 2:30 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You hired for a job he doesn't want to do. It sounds like Ron wants to fire Ron.
posted by GilloD at 2:51 PM on August 22, 2010

Let him know that it's time for him to move on. But since you poached him from a stable position, tell him you'll retain him for up to thirty days to give him a chance to find his next job. You did snatch him from a job he was happy to keep even though you had full knowledge of his experience, so you do carry a little responsibility for this situation. It would be rough to get bribed away from a job only to get dumped a couple months later. Business is business, but still keep in mind what's fair. I'm speaking as someone who's recently been poached and dumped.
posted by Jon-o at 3:10 PM on August 22, 2010

He needs to go. Be sure to document the two meetings where you set your expectations of him. Back up your hard drives before you have the termination meeting.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 3:10 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fire him immediately with 30 days of severance pay. He's obviously not working out, and if he's not doing a sufficient job now, he certainly won't knowing that there's a clock to run out.

He sounds like the kind of guy who sees himself in the big chair without ever understanding that the ticket to getting there is proving he can fill the little chairs on the way. I'll bet he says things like "I'm an ideas guy..." to himself.

Next time, don't hire someone from a networking event because you get a good feel about them. The only thing you can be sure that someone at a networking event is good at, is networking.
posted by fatbird at 3:23 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, a thousand times. While you're having your meeting, have his account shut out if you're running a domain and make sure he doesn't have local admin rights to anything in a local account. Nthing documentation. Don't need to have a check for Ron right away - have it ready at the end of the week (pay him a month's salary plus the week). Make sure you have conditions in your termination letter regarding return of any company assets, non-disparagement, etc. His loss is your gain.
posted by nj_subgenius at 3:27 PM on August 22, 2010

I think some of these answers don't come from somebody who has fired people before.

I can't help you make the decision. That's a business decision and a personal one. I can say that it SHOULD hurt to fire somebody. If it doesn't make you lose a little sleep, you're doing it wrong.

If this answer gets deleted because it doesn't answer the question, I will understand.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:30 PM on August 22, 2010

I can say that it SHOULD hurt to fire somebody. If it doesn't make you lose a little sleep, you're doing it wrong.

I'll second stubby. I've fired two people in my life. In both cases it was justified, and in both cases it felt crappy. No matter how correct you are to fire the person, you're still dumping a shovelful of shit into their life.

In general, the ticket to making the firing go easily, or at least not as bad as it could, is to be very rational about it, and to not return emotion with emotion. Keep a level tone, stick to your decision, and discuss it in terms of "these are the performance requirements we had and communicated to you, and here's how you failed to meet those requirements."

Above all else, once you decide to fire the person, they're fired. The actual meeting is not an opportunity for them to beg and plead for their job, and you should not encourage any discussion of how they can stay. You are meeting with them only to inform them of your decision and what will happen following.

In my experience, people being fired will usually grasp any opportunity to retain their dignity by keeping it calm and business-like. Give them that opportunity.
posted by fatbird at 3:42 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you've made up your mind, in which case, go ahead and fire him Monday with as much compensation as you can stand (30 days seems the minimum decent thing, given what you've written). Don't let a dismissed employee stay on-site.

However, just one week after a formal talk that didn't result in "probation", I'd suggest an informal come-to-Jesus-cum-pep-talk. One director should approach him at his desk and say "Ron, I've noticed a little progress since last week's meeting. But you're email really rubbed Director 2 the wrong way. You need to keep you head down and shoulder to the wheel like we talked about, okay?... So, do you have those reports we talked about printed and collated? Not yet? Okay, I need them by lunch." If he takes it badly, have Director B drop the axe at the end of the day.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 4:03 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does 'poaching' mean you tempted him away from a secure job? If so, yes, the onus is on both parties, but I would try to compensate as much as possible for that. Your judgment for him being a fit for your company was very off, therefore your judgment to poach him was off. Now he is going to have to be unemployed and find a job.

If 'poaching' means you convinced him to leave a different job, you should have done a better job in knowing he would work out well for the company.

If he doesn't fit, fire him. But please learn that lesson.

(and if poaching means something else, well, never mind...)
posted by Vaike at 5:26 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I may be the only one going against the grain here but if i may point out some errors that just strike me.

You hired someone with people skills in order to manage an office that consists of 4 people?

It seems like you needed a secretary versus a office manager with good people skills, you needed someone with organizational skills more than anything.

I think you just liked the guy and maybe you should give him more opportunity by giving him something more challenging which may free up the directors times as well which can lead to more strategic thinking.

Ron is stepping up and you're telling him this is your limit at this company which to me strikes as a no growth company and anyone with better than good skills (that you assumed) is not going to want to stick a long time with you because there is a limit. You would be lucky to find such a person.

I'm glad it's clear to both parties though that he & you all are not happy.

Be honest and find out laws that way both of you have a heart to heart!
posted by iNfo.Pump at 5:59 PM on August 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

This situation is not going to improve with age. Just let him go.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:09 PM on August 22, 2010

It's pretty bad to have 2 informal talks about work performance, see improvements in the first week, and then fire the guy, especially in light of the circumstances of his hiring. You have no obligation to keep an employee you don't think is working out, but you should really consider the kinds of things you are selling future employees if you don't want people to think they were hired under false pretenses to do more important work than you're ever going to give them.
posted by shownomercy at 6:26 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

These are not things that he was hired to do, nor will there ever be an opportunity for him to do them.

Have a sit down with him and state this as plainly as you're stating it here. Ask him if he is happy in the job, if he is happy with the way things are going. Review what the agreement (or job description) was when he was hired and have a discussion - as two mature adults - about whether it is working or not, for each of you. I have found that this type of discussion often restores respect, and can lead to the person resigning shortly afterward, rather than being fired. Giving them time off for job interviews also helps. Seriously.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:45 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

[few comments removed - folks, if you can't answer the question without "shame on you" statements, come back when you can, thanks]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:58 PM on August 22, 2010

Lawyer. Lawyer. Lawyer. There's a contract involved. You stand to risk a lot if you don't line up your ducks here before you shoot them.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:35 PM on August 22, 2010

I've been the poached employee before. Believe me, I knew I wasn't a good fit about 6 months in, but stuck it out for a lot longer because it seemed like no one noticed but me and because I'd left a secure job for them and didn't want to be left out to dry in this scary economy. I wish someone had checked in on me and been honest. Here's how I wish the conversation would have gone, and how it could go for you and your employee:

"Employee, your job has evolved a lot, but I've noticed that what you're doing day-to-day isn't matching up with our needs anymore. What we really need are [these things that you aren't willing to do]. That's why we need to eliminate your position in favor of creating a new one. I really appreciate all the work you've put in here, and because I understand how tough the job market is, I'd like to set your last day for one month from today to give you a head start to interview. Additionally, the company would like to offer you a severance of $X. Of course, I'm happy to act as a reference for you, because I appreciate the work you did here. Our offer is here (hand employee the offer in writing, as written by your company lawyer), so please look it over, take it home, and let me know by tomorrow at 1:00pm."

Burning bridges works both ways. This is someone who did - you admit - many good things for your company. He's just not as good a fit as you'd hoped. Cut your losses as fast as possible, and be firm and kind.
posted by juniperesque at 9:40 PM on August 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

You should definitely speak to a lawyer before you proceed. The fact that you have a contract may significantly affect your obligations towards this employee. The last thing you want is to get served with a wrongful termination lawsuit right in the middle of your upcoming busy season. I obviously don't know the exact wording of the contract, and IANAL, but this employee may be under the impression (right or wrong) that he's owed a full year's compensation. Further, make sure you have written documentation of any interaction you have with him regarding his performance, as well as internal communication on the subject. If this goes to court, you want a rock-solid chain of evidence that your decision was justified by his poor performance.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 11:03 PM on August 22, 2010

The obvious answer is in your description of the situation:

When we hired Ron he was working at another company doing something entirely different. He had no managerial experience and was not looking for a new job but we poached him. Ron was hired because, after hitting it off with him at a networking event, it seemed his people skills would make him a good fit for the position.

We hired him on a ‘freelance’ basis, but wrote a contract essentially saying that we would hire him for 1 year, at a set amount each week. We also wrote in the contract that either party could terminate with 30 days notice.

Both paragraphs are relevant.
posted by thatdawnperson at 8:58 AM on August 23, 2010

Rather than fire him do what was suggested above - eliminate his job and create another - so he can get benefits - Also offer to gibe him an excellent reference - I think you owe him that
posted by xammerboy at 1:56 PM on August 23, 2010

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