When can I fire someone?

We get asked this question a lot. If it's been less than 3 months in Ontario, it's not such a difficult question. But once you are past that threshold, there are different things to consider. Here's what Carolyn Elston-Ryder, CHRL the Principal of Elston Consulting—a woman who has tried to help some of our clients avoid costly legal battles—has to say on the topic:

One of the toughest decisions any employer must make is when to terminate an employee, this is especially true in a small business. Often the fewer employees you have the harder it is to make this decision. The line between employee and friendship often becomes blurred as you work so closely with everyone. This close relationship is a key strength of a small business but also one of the things that makes termination even harder.

As a consultant, I frequently get asked when can I terminate an under-performing employee? There is no one definitive answer but several things that should be considered prior to making the decision. Before we dive into it, I will state that this article is not legal advice, however from experience it has become clear that in Canada there is almost always a direct financial cost to making this decision.

Let’s assume that it is not any of the big stuff that would make the decision easier, there has been no violence, theft or major breach of a policy such as harassment. Let’s talk about that more challenging situation, the situation when you know the employee is no longer “a good fit”. The questions you should ask yourself include:

  1. Do they have the skills you need to get the job done? This is often happening slowly as the business changes or becomes more complex and the employee may not be adapting with the business or may not possess the new skills required to be successful.

  2. Are they contributing positively or negatively to the office and team environment? This is often a big factor in making the decision, especially on a small team where it can have a big impact on the rest of the team. Are the employees around them struggling to stay positive and focused due to this employee?

Once you have answered these questions before a decision is made you need to consider further:

  • Is this an employee that will add value to my business in other ways and can I continue to pay them for that contribution?

  • Have I had conversations with them and allowed them time to make changes to upgrade skills or adjust behaviours?

  • Have these conversations been documented and clearly communicated to the employee?

If the answers to these questions have led you to believe that it is time to act, the last questions to look at are:

  • Could I stand before a judge, a tribunal or mediator and articulate the reasons you terminated this employee?

  • Is there a clear business case and reasons that they no longer can be supported by the business?

You must ensure you are able to demonstrate that you took every step to change behaviours and provided opportunities for the employee to improve.

If you have made the difficult decision to separate, I always recommend you seek help on determining what type of package is needed. A human resources professional can help and in some more complex situations, they may direct you for legal advice.

Remember making the decision to terminate may be one of the most difficult steps but ensuring you are compliant may require other steps that a Human Resources professional can help guide you through.

Thanks Carolyn! Having some key questions to work through can help you make the decision when you are undecided on the issue. As always, we appreciate your feedback on HR issues that arise when running a business like these.

You may have more questions that you want answered. If so, leave a comment here or on our social media feeds, and we'll try to have those answered for you.

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