firing staff

You know who we’re talking about…

These are staff who rock the boat, divide teams, undermine morale and drive staff members to look for work elsewhere. And these might actually be among your best performers.

But look more closely. While they may have undertaken their work more quickly than others, is it high quality? In so doing, they could be damaging the reputation of your early learning service.

Impacting your good staff

It all comes down to ‘fit’ – whether they fit into your business seamlessly. Or does your workplace operate so much more smoothly when they’re not there? You might be getting the feeling that one bad apple can spoil the entire batch – research supports that.

“In fact, the cost associated with employing a troublesome employee is greater than the benefit of employing a top performer. It may be better for the bottom line, in other words, for organizations to put resources toward dealing with their troublesome workers than to focus their energies on superstars,” says Dylan Minor from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Picking them

His research found four characteristics that predict trouble ahead. They tend to:

• Be overconfident about their abilities
• Have poor empathy skills
• Agree rigidly with following rules (most of us understand sometimes it makes sense not to follow rules)
• Do work that doesn’t fit their talents

Getting yourself upset

Some fascinating research shows that when you’re managing troublesome staff, you’re less likely to correct them or retaliate. For most managers, no matter how well-intentioned you are, you’re more likely to abuse them. That’s because, when dealing with difficult employees some managers quite simply cannot control themselves.

So, the nudge here is not to let the bad apple affect your team. Here’s how to deal with it and ensure you have a valid reason for firing a worker. In summary:

Dig a bit deeper to see if there’s a bigger issue at the core – is there anger and behaviour justified? Should you empathise first?
Check your policies and processes against the law and regulations – are you setting clear expectations and, importantly, a paper trail? Get advice
Decide what you’re going to do about it, create a plan (use our links to resources and checklists below)
Raise the issue with the staffer – talk, explain, listen. Separate their behaviour from them personally – you don’t like their behaviour, but you might like the person

Is support an option?

Doing nothing or imposing sanctions are a couple of options. In fact, you could even do what this British boss did and fire all your staff to “pursue his dream of not having to work with them.”

Seriously, though, a study found “responding supportively” to an angry employee worked best. In fact, the staff member was more likely to turn over a good leaf. However, maybe you’ve gone beyond that possibility, so we’ll just veer straight into how you can show them the door.

Know the laws and regulations about firing staff

In Australia, most people think you can sack staff after three warnings of “poor performance” but for serious misconduct you may not need to give any warning. The Fair Work Commission requires giving such staff a “reasonable opportunity” to respond to your claim about their alleged misconduct. You need to do that before you fire them. The site also explains differences between underperformance and misconduct.

Consider having a performance system checklist, setting out the process to initially then formally manage underperformance, create a performance improvement plan, and how to meet with and subsequently review the staffer in a meeting. You can find all these as downloadable Microsoft Word documents on the Fair Work Commission site. Having a process that’s fair is part of your armour as an employer.

If you think you don’t need to worry about the law too much, check out this video about 16 ways to get sued when firing an employee (in the US State of California). Elsewhere in the US, a childcare worker sued her employer for religious discrimination after she “gave a bible to a lesbian colleague and refused to read ‘gay stories’ to children.”

Explain and explain again

You’ll need to explain your process to troublesome staff to ensure they understand it, too. This also helps safeguard you against accusations of harshness.

If your worker is bullying or harassing, check in with your state or country’s anti-bullying laws. Here’s the Fair Work Ombudsman’s advice page which distinguishes bullying from discrimination and what you need to do. As an employer, you are legally responsible under the Occupational Health and Safety and anti-discrimination law to protect staff and provide a safe workplace.

Getting advice

Does your service belong to a membership organisation that offers advice? One such organisation is the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA). In their autumn 2018 issue of Early Edition, they wrote about protections for small businesses (those that employ less than 15 staff members). The article said a worker can be terminated for performance reasons in their first year of service. And you don’t have to pace through a detailed performance management process. All you need to do is give them notice in writing.

If that staff member has already notched a year with you, “they become … protected from unfair dismissal – this includes casuals,” says the ACA. This is where you need to refer to the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code & Checklist.

“[It] requires a small employer to give an under-performing employee ‘at least one warning’ prior to dismissal and that warning doesn’t even have to be in writing.”

“Furthermore, if a small employer is dismissing an employee for serious misconduct (fraud, theft, assault, etc.), the code only requires the employer to have ‘believed on reasonable grounds’ that the employee had engaged in behaviour that would constitute serious misconduct.”

Here’s a useful link to the Australian Government’s business site about dismissing employees fairly.

It’s not personal

Your aim is to demonstrate dignity and respect when you’re firing a worker. Stand firm when you’re having your final meeting with them. It’s not negotiation. Detail how you’ve warned them about their performance. Then ask them ‘What would you do if you were me?’ Would they fire themselves? Chances are, they probably would.

Showing them the door

It’s a done deal. They’re out. Stay firm and professional. Consider if you’re comfortable offering them a letter of recommendation or being a referee. That’s as long as you’re not firing them for gross misconduct or a major safety issue. Ask them to collect their personal things and return items such as keys, their identification card, office credit card etc that should stay with the service.

Spreading the news

Staff will notice they’ve been moved on. Let them know verbally before they start gossiping. Put it in writing where necessary and you might include a note in the service newsletter. Children at your service need to be told, too. Simplify the reason and expect they may feel upset.

Australian Government Fair Work Commission
Small Business Fair Dismissal Code & Checklist
Anti-bullying and harassment at work – Australian Fair Work Ombudsman
Australian Human Rights Commission
Creating a healthy workplace
Will that get me fired? The 10 tests every employee needs to take

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