How to screw up a firing

Damn-I really suck at being a boss.

Here is the situation:

I have an employee-let’s call her Jane. She is excellent at some parts of the job but not good at others. She doesn’t listen to me. She is defensive and argues when I try to explain what I want. She treats my computers like they are hers (I had to stop her from putting a personal password on her windows so that nobody else could use that terminal) and treats our petty cash like her personal interest-free payday loan. I should have fired her months ago.

However, as noted above, I suck at being a boss and she is very young so I have been cutting her some slack. She has asked for a raise and I explained what I wanted her to do to earn it. I then decided to give a raise to somebody hired after her so to avoid any arguments I sat down and put Jane on a 60 day probationary period detailing what I wanted from her. We also had an office meeting with written rules of conduct for the office. But-she has kids and I know she is struggling to support them on her salary, so I have really been trying to give her a chance.

So, Friday she texts me that she has an administrative problem to take care of at social services and will be late. That’s it, no further emails or calls. She never shows up. Today, she shows up, but sits reading a book while letting me check the patients in myself.

I’m not arguing that I was wrong to fire her, but I should have called her into my office and handed her a formal letter. Instead, I just cornered her in the breakroom after work to ask her what happened Friday. When she said she just “got busy” and didn’t have a chance to call, I basically told her that I couldn’t have her working for me anymore. When she calmly tried to offer excuses, I basically told her I wanted her keys. I wouldn’t even give her time to talk because I was afraid I would back down, so I kept asking for her keys. I then offered to pay any remaining vacation pay and two weeks’ severance, reminded her that she could file for unemployment, and told her that I would give a decent reference in regard to the part of the job she did well.

Now, I feel like crap. I feel like I totally blindsided her, but I was seriously afraid that I would back down if I didn’t do it quickly. I’m worried about how she will support her kids and if she’ll be able to buy them Christmas presents. I know she has payday loans and I don’t want to be responsible for little kids living in a shelter. She’s probably out drinking and plotting revenge and I’m the one sitting here worrying about her future. Like I said, I really really suck at this.

She did it to herself. Some people love to play financial/occupational suicide-by-cop. She knows what she does is wrong, she does it anyway, you called her on it. From the sounds of it, you care more about her kids than she does. If she did care more, she would have shut up and done what she was told so she can keep her job. Don’t think for a second that there are not plenty of people who depend on playing the (young+cute+small children) cards to stay employed.

I wouldn’t say you blindsided her. She knew she was on probation and screwing up would end her job. Then she never shows up. I think that was generous of you to let her stay on as long as you did, and give her severance as well. Some people want jobs, and some people don’t. Jane will be easily replaced by someone who wants the job much more than she apparently did.

Nailed it. Getting fired is pretty much always a blindside. You were more than generous with the severance.

This also may be the knock upside the head she needs to get her life in gear. She may have been either consciously or unconsciously (to give her the benifit of the doubt) using the small children card to stay employed, like drachillix says.

You have been more than generous with her.

I’m sorry, wasn’t she on probation? She was on probation. No blindsiding. Probation means “you’ve been screwing up, do it again and you’re out.”

  1. You come across as a caring, sensitive employer. Take pride in that. I’d say that you really don’t suck at this.

  2. You are a business, not a charity. There’s a contract: she does what you ask of her; you pay her for that. She doesn’t fulfill her part of the bargain - you show her the door.

  3. She is responsible for her actions and her kids, not you. You gave her a chance. She didn’t take it.

Probation USUALLY means, “you better start looking for a new job, this one is very likely going to end.”

There have been very few probation cases I’ve seen over the years that haven’t ended with termination. Sometimes it takes longer than the single probation…probation tends to put you at the top of the layoff list.

I don’t think firing someone is ever easy. I’ve never had to do it but if I were in the same position I’d have a pretty damn tough time of it too – for the same reasons. But in the end what’s been said is truly the reality of the situation: You were paying her for a job she wasn’t doing properly, she was taking advantage of your kindness, taking improper liberties with company assets, and apparently just didn’t understand that she was expected to work for her money. You gave her pretty wide latitude compared to most of the other bosses I’ve ever had, and offered her a blatant olive branch.

It really is her own problem that she didn’t grab it; whatever financial hardship she endures now she invited upon herself. Apparently, she needs to learn the hard way what’s truly expected of her in the work force. I can identify – I was the same way, and yes, I unfairly blamed everyone but myself. But in retrospect I brought it on myself, something I’ve long since learned. Now I’m working for a great company making decent money and I’ve been here well over 4 years now. Hopefully, with time and harsh lessons, she’ll shape up and reach the same point.

It’s not your job to think about her kids. It’s her job to think about her kids. And if you had been warning her to do things differently for some time, then she obviously didn’t take you serious enough to try and retain her employment with you. That’s on her, not you.

I’m amazed that there are so many dunderheads out there throwing away decent jobs when there are so many good people unemployed.

I just had this talk with my sister. You didn’t cause her to lose her job, her actions did.

You merely pointed out the consequences…

Every place I’ve ever worked at, this would have resulted in being fired on the spot and in some places, the police would have been called.

You’ve been far more than fair.

You might have also just done her a huge favor. When I first moved to NYC I had a job that paid good money but it was a hell of a commute out of the city to get there. I spent at least 3 hours a day on the train to and from work (and that was on days without train delays!) and by the time I got home from work in the evenings I had about an hour where stores and laundromats were still open in my neighborhood so I could rush through grocery shopping or laundry and then go home and do all the things I had to do there to take care of my cats and keep it in a liveable condition.

Because of the schedule I got to a point where I was only sleeping about 4 hours a night and was irritable and defensive at work. There were other huge problems in that office (one of my coworkers kept screwing with my work and I had to start documenting everything I did because he would go in and hide or destroy projects I had worked on :mad:) but even without the other issues I wouldn’t have lasted much longer than I did. I finally just left my badge in my desk one day and told them I wasn’t ever coming back and spent 3 months looking for a better job. I now have the best job in the whole world and it took 2 hours off of my daily commute. The pay is slightly less than I earned at the other job but they pay 100% of my health insurance and transportation costs so it more than evens out. I never would have found this job if I hadn’t hit my breaking point when I did and left that other company. You firing this girl could be just what she needed to find something that is a better fit for her so she can be happier and more productive at work.

In addition to all the good comments you’ve gotten, think about this: the job may very well now go to someone who has kids to support who gives a damn about supporting them!

I am bewildered that you even feel bad about this. She didn’t show up to work after saying she would be in late, and then she comes in Monday and blatently doesn’t do her job? Yikes. Then you offer her two weeks severence? Dude, I have a bridge to sell you.

I hope you have documented her various incidents, because, IMO people like this can probably sense your feeling and wouldn’t hesitate to sue you for some stupid, unjustifed reason (wrongful termination, descrimination, etc.)

Now that you’ve spent some time thinking about how you might have done it differently, try it.

Give psychospouse or psychosibling a script of her reactions and maybe a few other scenarios and practice firing them a few times.

It won’t make firing someone any easier, but it will give you more confidence in what you have to do.

Firing someone is no fun - even when the person deserves it. I have had to do it a few times - nothing makes it easier but to get it done quickly.

I was expecting you to screw up the act of firing, based on the title alone. Something like: “I was going to fire her, but somehow I ended up giving her a 20% raise, a corner office and company car.”

Firing someone on probation isn’t screwed up. It is pretty much par.


I don’t see how you could possibly have been any more accomodating, aside from offering her 365 days of paid vacation every year until the end of time.

Her firing was correct, the way you handled it was incorrect.

You made an error, people deserve dignity. I have fired people over the years and they deserve a private area where you explain you are letting them go.

Firing someone is JUST as important as hiring someone. If you wouldn’t have conducted an interview there than it’s inappropriate to fire a person. It should be private one on one type deal.

Again you were right to fire her, but you were wrong in the way you went about it. And well next time you’ll know better.

Should you attempt to rectify or apologize? No, it’s too late. Forget it and learn for next time. You can’t make this right so there’s no point trying to. It won’t matter to her.

She acted with bad judgement by flaking off at her job. And you acted with bad judgement firing her the way you did.

But so what? Everyone uses bad judgement in their life.

I know you feel bad. I’ve had to let people go, and it’s never easy.

When these type of situations come up in life, use them to learn for next time.

What did you learn? The biggest lesson I see, is if you have a problematic employee don’t let the frustration build to where you explode.

The best way to do this, write the employee up. Explain the rules to her replacement. No absence unless you call in first, no personal loans from petty cash, no etc, etc etc

The FIRST violation, write them up. This way everyone knows where everyone stands.

Maybe she had a good reason to “steal from petty cash.” Perhaps her rent was due Monday and she didn’t get paid till Friday. In that case I would have written her up and gave her a chance to explain saying that in the future come to you instead of stealing and you may be able to make an advance. (Or whatever, I wouldn’t say that, but that is the boss’s call)

Again you can’t make this situation right, you can’t make her feel better, so learn for it and instead of feeling bad about it, right now, write a list of things you’ll do for when you hire replacements so you won’t make the same mistakes.