“Can I just fire this employee because of their performance?” Many human resource professionals are asked this question all the time, and it’s a question we receive in the HR Knowledge Center quite often, too.
Unfortunately, the answer really depends on the situation. Like most things in HR, situations are complicated, and many will fall within a “gray area.” So, what do we do with underperformers? I tend to ask myself a list of questions before going forward with termination, because termination may not be the only solution or outcome:
- Is there any written documentation backing up the performance issues?
- Is there any written documentation, including performance reviews, that contradicts performance issues?
I have worked with managers who are afraid to give a negative performance review, thinking that it would demotivate an employee. Honestly, if an employee is not performing to standards, aren’t they already demotivated?
- Is the employee aware that their performance isn’t up to the standards of the organization/position?
In my experience, an employee who is not told what they are doing incorrectly most likely is not even aware there’s a problem. It’s up to the manager to make sure an employee understands what is expected of them. One way I have achieved this is by utilizing job descriptions, training and employee policies and procedures.
- Was a performance improvement plan (PIP) given?
Did it spell out the who, what, when, where, why and how of the expectations? What additional training is needed, if any? This is generally given as a last resort and if it is not achieved in the time frame spelled out, then termination is the result.
Involuntary terminations are usually unpleasant. Because there is a chance of liability, I always look at situations and ask myself the “what if” questions. What if there is a claim filed against the employer? Was the best decision made in each situation? Can the company support the reasons for termination? Most importantly, did I genuinely help an employee be the best they could be, and in the end, do I feel confident defending the decision to terminate?
If you want to know more about performance and termination, including policies, or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call, chat with us or send an e-mail. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!
SHRM’s Ask an Advisor service is a member benefit through which SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors share guidance, real-life personal and professional experiences, and resources to assist members with their HR-related inquiries. We receive questions from HR professionals on a wide range of topics that include HR leadership and professionalism in the workplace as well as current workplace topics related to COVID-19.
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