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When to Fire an Underperforming Employee

Let’s be honest. At one point in time we’ve all had an employee who wasn’t a good fit. When going through the hiring process, he or she seemed ready for the job. After several months of the employee missing deadlines, showing up late, or failing to take initiative, you wanted nothing more than to cut the cord. Yet many hesitate to let an employee go.

When is it time to fire an underperforming employee? Here is your checklist.

You’ve communicated expectations

Before you even posted an ad for the job opening, you should have developed a comprehensive job description (and if you didn’t, do it now!). That job description should explicitly state your expectations. What are the responsibilities of the person in this role? How will performance be measured? In addition to listing responsibilities, the employee handbook should state your courses of action when dealing with an underperforming employee. Do you have a three-strike system? Is an employee terminated after showing up to work late five days in one year? Do you have an employee performance improvement plan? Follow your procedures and be sure to record issues in employee files.

You began a performance improvement plan

Once the employee begins underperforming, follow the steps outlined in your employee handbook to get him or her back on track. Ideally, this would be a performance improvement plan. Lay out, in writing, what the problem areas are and provide detailed and time-sensitive goals necessary for correction. Make sure that your expectations are reasonable and that they have a deadline. Be available to the employee for feedback or questions. Document your written plan, conversations, and exchanges with HR. As deadlines pass, follow up and let them know whether or not they achieved their goals.

You’ve documented performance

Employers often fail to document exchanges with employees, thinking it takes too much time or will never prove useful. Documenting these exchanges, however, is crucial when terminating an employee. If something is not documented, there is no way to prove it happened. Documentation can prove useful should the terminated employee respond with a lawsuit, whether claiming discrimination or wrongful termination. Employers can also choose to use the documentation during the actual termination, through citing evidence of why the employee is being let go.

If you’ve taken these steps with your employee and you do not see the desired improvement, it’s time to let that employee go. You’ve laid out your expectations, communicated that they weren’t met, set up an improvement plan, and documented the continued lack of performance. Keep in mind that Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska are all at-will employment states. Though you have the option of citing reasons for termination, you are not obligated to.

If you have questions regarding your rights as an employer, contact a Sioux City attorney, Sioux Falls lawyer, or Omaha attorney today!