When is the Right Time To Fire an Employee

The act of firing an employee is never easy. Even the most experienced managers lose sleep over it. It’s almost impossible to eliminate emotion from these difficult decisions, even when they make all logical sense. 

This can be softened by implementing one truth: An employee should never be surprised at being fired. Read that again. This is the largest point and lead domino for the article. If we fail on this front we expose not only an issue with our management skill but also problems with our company systems.

Having recently let an employee go, made this a relevant article to write. It is such an unpleasant but vital part of management.

In this post, we will cover some policies that can be implemented to make this process more cut and dry for managers as well as some of the signs that indicate it may be time to let that "good enough" employee go.

The Golden Rule

A desire for speed inside an organization and/or its industry combined with the pressure for high growth can cause many managers to be quick to hire (“We need to fill this position now!”) but slow to remove underperforming employees because they’re busy and would rather put off the awkward, difficult conversations.

Before getting into the meat of the article, let us start by saying there is true value in the advice of being "slow to hire and quick to fire". A thorough vetting process for new employees can be a big solution in the area of having to enact the remainder of this article.  

Is There a Policy?

After you have structured your hiring practices, you can move on to systems affecting current employees. Most importantly verify that you develop, communicate, and maintain a progressive correction policy with your employees. A progressive correction policy is the first opportunity to salvage an employee before the final straw is met.

At our company, this is kept pretty simple. An employee receives a verbal warning, a written warning (typically with a probationary time period) and next step is termination. 

Although this is an ugly process, it is kept much more straightforward for you, your employees and your organization if the process is clear and enforced.

The implementation of your progressive correction policy, or lack thereof, is extremely necessary and overall will make your job easier and your company morale healthier. An analogy that brings the importance of setting and maintaining policy with employees is as follows:

When we go to a theme park, get sat in a roller coaster, and the restraint pushed down, what is the first thing everyone does? You pull up on the restraint. No one is expecting the restraint to pop up. Instead, we all want to feel the restraint stay firm. The same holds true with our employees. They will regularly test your resolve and they truly do not want to see you bend, but instead want you to hold true. The better you can do this the more secure your whole organization will be.

Reasons to Fire

We are not going to delve into the multitude of zero tolerance infractions (i.e. violence, drugs, deceit…etc.) that would constitute immediate termination. Hopefully, your progressive correction system above will weed out individuals with infractions. The harder thing to do is define those "good enough" employees and decide what to do with them. When is the right time to fire and when is the right time to rehabilitate?

A good first consideration is when you hired this person they had some kind of potential or possibility for the company. If you could correct the problem and get them back to that place would you want this person on your team? Do they hold a personality/work ethic contradictory to team demeanor or company culture?

The next question worthy of thought is if this employee is stopping-up your company structure. This could be as important for a starting position as upper management. If you cannot continue to bring in or promote talent in your organization because this individual is sitting in a role consuming resources it's likely time for them to go.   

If the answer to either of the above questions is negative, then it is time to start the process of removing this person from your organization.


The reasons that an employee may need to be considered for termination are endless and not to be taken lightly. The processes found in this article will both make this decision more straightforward as well as provide some insight into the more difficult decision of letting mediocre employees go. 

Action Steps:

1.) Verify your hiring practices are clear on fully vetting potential candidates for desired qualities and weeding out poor attributes.

2.) Develop and maintain a progressive correction policy with your employees.


Blessings In Your Endeavors, 

Ruben Watson 

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