5 Hard Lessons Related to Firing Somebody

So you start your business, and you get it going, and growing. If you have employees, it’s likely you’re going to have to deal with firing somebody. Here are my some of my thoughts (based on actual experience; not theoretical) on that subject.


  1. Having to fire somebody who’s been trying hard and failing is the worst job a business owner has. I’d rather do collection calls. But it happens sometimes. If you can’t stand the heat …
  2. Because of the recession in 2001 I had to let five people go on the same day. We had to cut costs and we had no choice. They weren’t let go for their own failure, but ours, and they knew it. For the record, that’s much easier than letting one person go because of work or performance reasons.
  3. Firing somebody should never be a surprise. It should be because expectations weren’t met, and performance wasn’t as expected, and that person should always know it. If it’s a surprise, management has failed. (Well, if it is a surprise to the person let go, that is; as for co-workers, that’s none of their business.)
  4. A good lawyer I worked with for years used to say that the time to let somebody go is the first time you ask yourself whether or not you should; the first moment you even think of it. He’s a smart guy, a good and honest lawyer, and basically compassionate. His underlying though was that it was best for both sides to do it as soon as you start wondering. And I’ve never known anybody to actually work that way. I didn’t. Still, the wisdom here is that it’s better sooner than later. Later does more damage.
  5. I’ve had some successes with repositioning a person, rewriting their job description, having them do something entirely different, rather than firing them. However, to be honest, those successes were the exception, not the rule.
  6. (Bonus) We live in a litigious world. Talk to your attorney before you do it. There are a lot of things you’d like to say but you shouldn’t. And some very unfair lawsuits happen.

What do you think?

(Image: bigstock photo

8 thoughts on “5 Hard Lessons Related to Firing Somebody

  1. I always found that when I start doing the person’s job then it is time to et them go. My rule f thumb is if they don’t take work off my shoulders then they at just a burden to have around.

    By the way, can you turn off OnSwipe? It doesn’t even work right on an iPad. Your website looks great without it.

  2. The fourth point is the key! We tend to keep people on much longer than we should. I just forwarded the whole post to my accountability group as its something we’re always dealing with.
    My lawyers always told me before you fire someone, to look around the office and see if anyone else in the office looked like that person (age, sex, race etc). If they DON’T, when you terminate them, make sure everything is done properly to reduce the chances of a lawsuit.

  3. I loved #3 – totally worth the 2 minutes it took to read the article. I also believe that if it’s not a surprise, it makes the whole process a lot less painful.

  4. I like your points, very clear. One question though, if I’m to achieve #3 (no surprises) then in your #2 example, did your employees know that the company was going through a financial rough patch? Is this an expected thing for employees to be aware of? Is this true for both startups or more mature companies?

    1. Wally, thanks for this comment, and the question. The answer is yes, absolutely, and with emphasis. I believe every company should keep its employees well informed of ups and downs and problems and good news, always. In our case, our employees were well aware, and in fact, I had stopped taking salary myself, about six months earlier. They all knew we were dealing with a downturn. We put off laying people off until it was a last resort. And it was.

  5. All good points but #3 is gold. If they don’t know then there has been no remediation steps involving the person. Assuming that there hasn’t been gross negligence, remediation attempts are key for justifying the action. (it also helps you sleep at night)

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