12/9/2005 - “It’s easy enough to hire people, but it’s the devil’s own job to get rid of them.”

In the summer of 2005, I had the privilege of traveling to Canterbury, England, to attend an educational conference and participate in graduation ceremonies at Warnborough University. Rather than take the tube from Gatwick into London and thence to Canterbury, I decided to have a transportation company pick me up at the airport and drive me through the rolling hills of Sussex and Kent and directly on to Canterbury. The driver was an affable chap (in England, one is either a chap or a bloke – this fellow was a chap . . .) and we had an interesting and enjoyable conversation about a host of different topics. When I asked him what he had done prior to becoming a driver, he told me that for many years he was a senior manager in a British automobile company, but had gotten weary of the grind and had taken early retirement. One reason for this change, he volunteered, was the challenge of hiring and retaining good employees, a subject that rang very familiar to these American ears. But even worse, he said, was the difficulty of dismissing a bad employee. Apparently, the rules and regulations in England are, in some ways, more stringent than those in America, although America has more of them. “It’s easy enough to hire people,” he remarked, “but it’s the devil’s own job to get rid of them.” Indeed.

Here in America, we face the same challenge. It would be wonderful if all employees would follow the rules and perform at a high level of excellence at all times and, when we look closely, most of us will say that most employees do a good job and are a real asset most of the time. Sometimes, however, we come upon an employee that is a bad apple and when that occurs, management is faced with the question of dismissal. Sometimes the dismissal may be due to a lengthy record of poor performance or policy violation; other times, it may be due to an incident so serious that dismissal is the only proper recourse.

Dismissing an employee can be most unpleasant and some managers worry about being too quick to dismiss employees. Our experience, however, shows that the opposite is true. Most employers we know are good hearted toward their employees and want to give them a second chance . . . and sometimes a third and a fourth chance. As a result, they do not want to dismiss employees and tend to keep them much longer than they should, in the hope that they will improve. Gazing upon the rubble of a backfired problem, how many employers have said with a sigh, “I should have fired that person a long time ago.” Experience teaches us that, most of the time, bad apple employees do not improve; to the contrary, they get worse.

Way back in “the Day,” our high school physics teacher taught us the Second Rule of Thermodynamics which posits that, left alone, things tend to get worse, not better. For example, if you toss an ax out into the yard, it will not tend to get shiny and sharp, but will become rusty and dull. The same principle is true with regard to bad apple employees – they don’t tend to get better, they tend to get worse, and the situation will be worse at the end than it is now.

Compounding the situation, dismissals involve conflict and most managers would rather avoid this kind of confrontation, if possible. In addition, a dismissal can create “situational stress,” which can manifest itself in the form of sleeplessness, anxiety, stomach pain and palpitations. On the other hand, you may have a profound sense of relief when it is all over and the bad apple employee is gone.

Therefore, if you have an employee who needs to be dismissed, it’s better to move ahead and dismiss the employee now, take the heat of the moment, and let the healing process begin. Otherwise, it will get worse and worse and worse and will be worse at the end than it is now.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you go out and “win one for the Gipper” this afternoon at four o’clock, but it does mean that, if you have made a conscious and considered decision that an employee needs to be dismissed, it’s better to go ahead with the dismissal quickly. Otherwise, things will be worse at the end than they are now. In the words of King Macbeth, “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly.”


When the time comes to dismiss an employee, what is the best way to accomplish that task? Here are some suggestions for dismissing an employee the right way, so that he or she stays gone, and does not come back to haunt you, in terms of back wages, penalties, potential re-instatement and bad publicity.

1. Have the dismissal meeting at the end of the day. In this way, there is less likelihood that the employee may cause a disturbance in front of others.

2. Make the dismissal meeting private. Include only you, the employee and a witness. Never dismiss an employee without a witness.

3. Before the meeting, anticipate how the employee may react. If you think there may be a chance of violence, make the proper security arrangements. Remember that violence can occur hours or even days after a dismissal.

4. Keep the dismissal meeting short. There’s an old proverb among managers that declares, “The more you say, the more you pay.” You should not engage in an argument or lengthy discussion with the employee. Simply state that the company has made this decision and today is the employee’s last day of employment.

5. There is no regulatory requirement to tell an employee why he or she is being dismissed. In some cases, the reason is obvious. In other cases, it’s best just to say, “We have decided to make a change and today is your last day.”

6. When the dismissal meeting is over, escort the employee off the property. Some recently dismissed employees are often upset and there have been situations where employees have become angry and destroyed company property on the way out.

7. We do not recommend that you offer to provide a reference check of any kind for a dismissed employee, as this may be something to explain and defend, if the dismissal is challenged.

8. There is no requirement to provide “severance pay” to a dismissed employee and most employers do not offer this benefit. Experience shows that, while we hope that a severance pay package buys the “good will” of the employee, this is seldom the case. Thus, if you decide to provide severance pay, it is a matter of company policy rather an employment regulation. At dismissal, an employee is owed only wages earned through the last day of work, plus whatever retirement benefits may be due. COBRA and Unemployment Compensation are separate matters. Most states do not require the payment of accrued but unused vacation pay, although other states do have this requirement. Check with Seay Management on this point prior to dismissal. If you decided to provide severance pay, there is no rule of thumb with respect to the amount, although 2 –4 weeks would be considered generous by most standards.

9. In most cases, it’s best not to offer the employee an opportunity to resign because if an employee resigns under pressure, while the record may show a resignation, the enforcement agencies regard this as a “constructive discharge,” and treat it the same way as any other involuntary dismissal.

10. Thoroughly document everything.

In employment matters, it’s not always what you do, as it is the way you do it. Dismissal is an unpleasant but sometimes necessary management decision, but one that is fraught with danger for the employer. We’re enclosing the Seay Management Consultants Separation Checklist and recommend that you utilize this critical management tool when you are faced with a dismissal. In addition, we recommend that you call Seay Management Consultants to discuss it, to make sure that all of the dismissal arrangements or in order. We appreciate having you as a client of our firm and are always glad to talk with you.


1. Do you have a reason for the dismissal?

2. Can you express this reason in writing?

3. Is this reason job-related?

4. Does the reason for dismissal violate any state or federal employment regulation?

5. Is the person being dismissed being treated equally with other employees who have committed the same infraction?

6. Do you have other persons who have committed this same infraction and who have not been dismissed?

7. Is the employee a member of one of the protected groups?

8. Is the dismissal fully documented (you should have at least three written disciplinary notices prior to dismissal for a so-called “routine” dismissal, or one fully documented notice for an extremely serious one) and is the “real” reason documented on the separation notice.

9. Has the employee been given an opportunity to tell his or her side of the story?

10. Are you prepared to reassess your decision if you uncover new information?

11. Have you taken precautions to avoid potential violence associated with the dismissal?

12. Have you made arrangements to have the person’s final pay prepared?

13. Have you considered the employee’s length of service?

14. Is the employee's supervisor new?

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