Calling it quits: How and when to let an employee go
Engagement 5 minute read

Calling it quits: How and when to let an employee go

Megan Orr | March 9, 2023

Having to part ways with an employee is one of the hardest parts of being a manager. Here are some of the things to consider when deciding if it’s time to let an employee go.

There are many reasons why an organization may decide to let an employee go: restructuring, budget cuts, performance issues, or an employee just not being the right fit for their role. Regardless of the reason, it’s never an easy decision. 

Research shows that “managers of large and small companies alike rank firing employees as one of the most difficult responsibilities they have”, along with things like managing interpersonal conflicts and retention issues. 

If the reason for letting an employee go is performance-related, many leaders may struggle with the process—even if it’s to their own detriment. As The Muse writes, “the first and most important step in the firing process is to make sure your employee can see the train coming, long before it arrives”. While terminations are an unpleasant part of the job, it’s crucial that a leader knows when an employee is no longer a good fit for the organization. 

Does your organization have clear policies around performance issues and when to let an employee go? If not, why not?

It’s vital to have clear guidelines on performance expectations and issues so that both employer and employee are on the same page about the potential for termination if issues arise. 

As the government of British Columbia notes, it’s important for employers to “provide clear and consistent standards for all staff. They also need to act in a reasonable amount of time to correct employee behaviour. If [an employer] cannot show proof that they did this, they may not be able to prove just cause”.

There are many ways to set up a performance improvement plan, but the basics are as follows:

  1. Identify the problem area(s) with clear examples. 
  2. State clear expectations of what improvement looks like. 
  3. Create clear metrics for improvement. 
  4. Set a timeline and target dates for improvement. 
  5. Communicate what consequences will be if improvements are not seen. 

Many employees may view performance improvement plans as a precursor to firing—however that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.

If, even after setting clear expectations and/or implementing a performance improvement plan, your employee continues to not meet expectations, your final option may be termination. 

Termination laws and guidelines vary by region. In BC, employers are able to terminate an employee’s job without cause as long as they provide written notice or severance pay. However, it’s important to ensure that termination is compliant with the guidelines in your region and does not go against employment laws. 

When terminating an employee with cause, employers are not required to give notice or pay severance in BC. However, the employer is required to provide proof of cause. 

Here are some reasons—or causes—to let an employee go ASAP:

  • Their performance has been a consistent issue and has not improved even after efforts to improve it through a PIP or additional support/training. 
  • They have done something against company policy that they were either warned about in the past or that has a zero tolerance rule within your organization. 
  • They have done something either blatantly or potentially illegal at or with company property, or that could impact your company reputation. 
  • They have consistent attendance issues that they have been reprimanded and warned about previously without any noticeable improvement. 
  • The employee has consistently created a toxic work environment for other employees, despite manager/HR intervention. This could include things like a poor or negative attitude or gossiping.  

Essentially, in order to let an employee go with cause, it’s important for employers to keep clear records of any transgressions and attempts to improve. 

If you’re suddenly thinking you may need to let an employee go—who previously was performing well and without any issues—there may be something larger at play. 

Relatively sudden performance issues is where the challenge often lies for managers. If the fireable behaviour is new/unexpected, your employee may be going through one or several issues, either work or personal. It may be worth checking in with the employee to evaluate if there have been any major life changes or if they’re experiencing burnout. Additionally, it’s important to consider if an employee is performing poorly due to factors outside of their control but within the organization, such as being short staffed or poor management.

Ultimately, if an employee is being supported and given chances to improve but hasn’t, the fair thing to do for everyone—including everyone else on the team who may be picking up the slack—is to let them go. That’s why it’s so important to have clear policies around everything so that you can ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equitably.

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