Flaky new employee- should I even bother?
November 9, 2007 9:26 AM   Subscribe

How can I fire a new employee before his first day even starts?

I work in a research lab at a major university. We're hiring some undergrads to do some hourly work in graphic design and page layout work. I'm concerend about one of our potential employees. This particular person seemed great in his interview, so we offered him a job, but now I'm getting some bad signals. From the start, he was always really slow to reply to emails (at least a week went by after I replied to his initial contact). That's ok, prompt emailing is nice but not required for the job, as long as overall he's responsible and detail-oriented. Now, we're trying to get his paperwork filled out, but he keeps missing his scheduled time to come in (or comes in after the agreed upon range of time, during the lunch hour, when HR is closed for lunch). The first day, he actually didn't even call until well after the scheduled time and said he was really sick and had to sleep in (he did look very rough when I saw him later).
We can let this person go any time if it doesn't work out, but I don't think I want to even mess with actually hiring him in the first place. He seems like a guaranteed failure. Two questions:
1. Am I being judgmental? Should I give this person a shot?
2. How can I tell him nevermind on the job offer? Supposedly, he's coming in today, but we agreed on 9:30am and it's already after 11. Should I tell him when he arrives or shoot an email and hope he gets it before he comes in (not at all guaranteed)?
posted by parkerjackson to Work & Money (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When he turns up, I'd say "Look, if you can't even turn up on time for your first day, I'm not sure this is for you. Sorry".

And point to teh door. If he objects, cite the evidence above that he has always been slow and flaky.
posted by Brockles at 9:31 AM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Shoot the puppy.

That's my motto about new hires that show adverse signs. Cut your losses and get out.

Theoretically you've got this person at the best he's ever going to be. It's all downhill from here. Why waste your time?
posted by charris5005 at 9:32 AM on November 9, 2007

Best answer: No, I don't think you're being judgmental. If he can't even show up on time multiple times to fill out paperwork, and doesn't even call (or at least not until well after the fact), you need to cut him loose. It's not going to get any better; now is the time when most people would be trying to make a good impression. I would tell him when he arrives today that it's just not working out, and not to bother with the paperwork. Tell him that responsibility is a job requirement, and that you're just not seeing it from him in his behavior thus far.
posted by amro at 9:32 AM on November 9, 2007

Yeah, you've got a built-in "see ya" with the 1.5-hour tardiness.
posted by WCityMike at 9:33 AM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your instincts are right, here. IF he turns up, tell him the position is no longer available to him and you are rescinding the offer.
posted by Sk4n at 9:35 AM on November 9, 2007

Best answer: The things preceding his first day (if i read correctly that today is it) are definite red flags, but could just be him being sick, or not being used to replaying to emails in a timely fashion.
However, being late on your first day is very close to unforgivable unless he has a very good and very believable reason for it. I would let him go when/if he ever shows up if he doesn't have a good reason. If you can't make it to your first day of work on time chances are you won't able to meet deadlines either.
posted by zennoshinjou at 9:35 AM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know, they're undergrads. It takes some time to grasp the ins and outs of business culture. I would give him a stern talking to about the lateness and then see what happens.
posted by sweetkid at 9:35 AM on November 9, 2007

I'd just tell him when he arrives. Unless he never does, in which case yeah, an email. How many times has he missed a scheduled meeting? Sorry, kid, but that's not how work works.

Sounds to me like he doesn't really want the job, but thought he should have a job. Then the reality of what it meant set it, and his non-confrontational response is to screw himself over through inaction. He'd rather not be there, you'd rather not have him there. Pre-shitcan him. It's what he wants you to do.
posted by mumkin at 9:38 AM on November 9, 2007

Yeah, what everyone else says. If he shows up, say, "Hey, I'm really sorry, but you weren't here on time and you didn't call, so we assumed you didn't want the job and we've given it to somebody else." If he doesn't show up, off goes an email saying basically the same thing.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:42 AM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would immediately put him to work after letting him know he either proves he has superior skills or gets axed. Hit him with a lot of work. If he turns out some fantastic things, keep him.
posted by cashman at 9:44 AM on November 9, 2007

Best answer: I have the same feeling as mumkin. He doesn't want the job, but somebody told him he had to get a job, so now he's passive aggressively fucking himself over.

I'd probably give him a chance to beg for it if and when he finally shows up, and possibly reconsider from there, but at this point, I'd be planning on finding a replacement.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:44 AM on November 9, 2007

Naw, your job isn't to give a stern talking to - you just want reliability. Most undergrads are reliable and this guy is an outlier. Tell him it's not working out (in an email at 4pm if he doesn't show) and don't feel guilty.
posted by dendrite at 9:45 AM on November 9, 2007

Late for the first day? Tell him not to bother coming back tomorrow.
posted by dead_ at 9:46 AM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most people are on their best behavior at least up to and through their first day on the job. If this is his best behavior, you're in for some big headaches.

Also, his response time, tardiness and otherwise flakiness are things you wouldn't tolerate from an full-fledged employee, so why put up with them from a new-hire?

Just call him (or email him) and let him know that you don't think he's going to be a good fit for the work environment. If he begs, give him a second chance and hope he now understands how he's expected to behave.
posted by necessitas at 9:50 AM on November 9, 2007

Best answer: I would give him a chance to show up for WORK on time, but be clear about expectations and keep a short leash.

All that HR filling out stuff is important but it's not work AND it's unpaid, right? So, even thought it is only an hour, or whatever, he still has to get his shit together and come down and park and etc etc etc. AND you agreed he was probably actually sick. Give the kid a break, but be firm about what you need from him during work. You hired him for a reason and he hasn't started working for you yet.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:57 AM on November 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Cahsman, as much as I get where you're coming from, I think your suggestion is a horrible idea. The kid will think, OK, I'm gonna get canned anyway, I'll call this guy's bluff and goof off. I get paid for whatever time I'm here, so, money for no work. Sweet!

And the lab will have wasted both time and money on him.

Personally, I'd stop him at the front door and inform him the job isn't his and he isn't welcome in the lab anymore.
posted by LN at 10:00 AM on November 9, 2007

I think that if you fire him, he will learn a lesson about the working world more valuable than the experience he would get actually working for you. Some people just don't get that there are certain things their jobs will and won't expect of them, they seem to think that everything's optional and the rules don't apply to them.

Then again, the other explanation that comes to mind for his behavior is depression. But that's really, really not your problem to deal with.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:00 AM on November 9, 2007

IF he bothers to come in, you could give him an opportunity to explain why he thinks you should let him keep this job.

If he doesn't come in, forget it. Tell him you gave the job to someone else.
posted by desuetude at 10:04 AM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hey, I was that undergrad! The professor hired me anyway, I proved flaky about communication and actually doing work, and in the end got fired. I needed and deserved the firing--I wasn't taking the work seriously enough and making excuses for myself, and being fired helped me recognize that. Fire him.
posted by Anonymous at 10:05 AM on November 9, 2007

I once hired a guy that I thought was gonna work out fine, but after a few days, I knew he wasn't right for the job. Then it took me 2 months of HR bullshit just to get rid of him.

Cut him pronto.
posted by ducktape at 10:06 AM on November 9, 2007

I don't know, they're undergrads. It takes some time to grasp the ins and outs of business culture.

A perfect way for him to learn that not being on time for your first day is to be fired for it. I guarantee if he ever cares about a job (and he doesn't seem to care about this one), he will not repeat the mistake.

Short of a disaster there's no reason to be over an hour late for work on your first day. It shouldn't be your business to figure out why, instead you should concentrate on finding someone who will do the work and be on time.
posted by splice at 10:07 AM on November 9, 2007

I don't know, they're undergrads. It takes some time to grasp the ins and outs of business culture. I would give him a stern talking to about the lateness and then see what happens.

Undergrad or not, the student is an adult, and capable of being responsible. Said student has decent grades, I assume? Then they obviously know how to be on time for things, and how important deadlines are. If he can't be bothered to turn up on time, then too bad, the job's not for him.

Get a hold of him (face to face, preferably), and say, "Unfortunately, since you've been very late in replying to my e-mails and you've failed to show up to fill out paperwork when asked, I'm going to have to retract my job offer. Good luck in your future endeavors." Shake his hand, go your separate ways. That's it.
posted by Verdandi at 10:08 AM on November 9, 2007

Easy, "at this time I am rescinding your job offer." People who have just been hired are on their absolute best behavior. They are trying to impress you, trying to prove themselves. If this is his best behavior, why have him hang around to see his worst?
posted by Ugh at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2007

At least schroedinger got a chance, this guy hasnt even started yet.

Of course this being 'ask metafilter' you will always get dramatic validating answers first "leave her, quit your job, etc."

It looks like to me that you hired a college kid without much real life work experience who may not be so keen about the job and got a nasty cold. Your call, but its not like this guy is so bad that you absolutely should get rid of him before he even starts. He may just have had a rough start.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2007

Being over an hour late with no phone call is inexcusable. Combined with the other examples of flakiness, I wouldn't want to bother. The only exception is if he has a plausible explanation for having been so late without calling you.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2007

Please post what you choose to do with this employee.

Explaining only gets you in trouble. "We've rescinded your job offer," is all you need say.
posted by lothar at 10:25 AM on November 9, 2007

Missing an appointment once and not calling is bad but excusable - he was sick and probably overslept - hence the no call - but you don't do it again (at least not to the same people for the same job), a responsible adult would make sure by any means, to get to the next appointment, no matter how sick he was (bonus points for turning up sick - proves you were really ill the first time and makes you look like a really dedicated employee)

If he turns up, tell him the job is no longer available to him at this time and if at any point he gets his act together (might want to choose more tactful words) he's welcome to reapply.
posted by missmagenta at 10:37 AM on November 9, 2007


Unless if it's a cultural issue, showing up on time on the first days of work is one of those things that you have to do.
posted by drezdn at 10:51 AM on November 9, 2007

Response by poster: Update--
When my coworker came in, it turned out the new kid had emailed him (at 9:20, so this time the notification was timely). It’s a little weird he didn’t call since we know he has the number. Anyway, he is really sick again. He did look really sick when he came in before (during a lunch hour when he had an appointment immediately following the lunch hour).

We know it’s his first real job, so I am inclined to follow the advice of making it obvious that I’m ticked off and that this is not acceptable workplace behavior, but letting him start anyway (I'm going to stop short of demanding begging). HR shouldn’t be a huge issue, since this is hourly work with a definite end-point. If things go bad, I'll just say the work is done. Also, this being a university, we are kind of encouraged to educate the students… I'm saving some poor employer a bit of trouble when this kid hits the job market in May.

Thanks for all of the advice, please don't hate me for being weak and hiring him!
posted by parkerjackson at 10:59 AM on November 9, 2007

If you let him go, and tell him why, you may well be teaching him a useful life lesson.
posted by londongeezer at 11:05 AM on November 9, 2007

I think TungstenChef may have it right when he mentions depression. This sounds a lot like how I behaved as an undergrad when I was too depressed to function but still needed a job to survive.

Sounds like you've got a plan. Give the kid a chance. Draw some really clear lines on what's expected (no more than X sick days per month, no more tardiness tolerated at all). If he is depressed, though, don't be too surprised if you have to let him go. You've got a lab to run, after all, and he needs to seek help if he can't get through the work day.
posted by weatherworn at 11:18 AM on November 9, 2007

My guess is that he emailed instead of calling because he has a bit of social anxiety and would prefer to avoid confrontation. Haven't we all been there at least once? He probably feels like he's in the doghouse already and is scared of getting a talking to - or worse, fired before he even starts!
posted by infinityjinx at 11:25 AM on November 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

My mom majored in "Industrial and Labor Relations" in college, which I affectionately say means she majored in how to fire someone. And boy does she fire people!

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a big 'ol whimp and can't fire people to save his life.

There must be a third way. And something tells me that you'll find it by hiring this kid, and being very clear if he is or is not meeting your expectations. Hold his feet to the fire. It will do him some good.

(You might also make friendly mention of the fact that we have really entered an age where people can barely get away with checking their email a few times a day and that prompt replies to email are becoming vital to being an effective employee.)
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:31 AM on November 9, 2007

Always err on the side of mercy.

Call him aside on the very first day and say, "Look, you have made a very bad impression so far and I thought very seriously of letting you go before your first day of work. You did X, Y, and Z. Your work from here on out has to be perfect, your communication has to be prompt, and you must absolutely be on time for everything. Now get to work."
posted by LarryC at 11:34 AM on November 9, 2007

You don't need to contact him at all. You may never hear from him again. If he contacts you, tell him that when he didn't turn up on time, with no explanation, you decided to give his job to someone else.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:36 AM on November 9, 2007

I don't know, they're undergrads. It takes some time to grasp the ins and outs of business culture.

To echo the sentiments of Schroedinger and others on this point: getting canned is a superb way to grasp these ins and outs, in a very concrete and unmistakable way.
posted by Rykey at 11:39 AM on November 9, 2007

Give him a warning. Tell him if he is late once more, then he will be replaced.
posted by onepapertiger at 12:32 PM on November 9, 2007

I always choose e-mail over phone call when it's available, and while I wouldn't necessarily use it for canceling a planned meeting (not everyone checks e-mail all day like I do), when I was young(er) I probably would have. Either way, e-mail is rapidly becoming an acceptable form of notification, so I wouldn't sweat that too much.

As for what to do, I would give the kid the benefit of the doubt re: being sick. If he has been seriously ill, and he's not actually working for you yet, he may not even realize how flaky he's appearing. However, you might choose to give him an ultimatum for his next appearance - let him choose a time to come around, and let him know that missing said appointment will void the job offer.

I know I was a decent worker at that age, but certainly not as professional as I (can be) now. I would have appreciated the break then, and consequently I'd be more inclined to them myself.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 1:06 PM on November 9, 2007

(to offer them myself.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 1:07 PM on November 9, 2007

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