The overall objective of your human resources strategy should be to find, develop and retain the best team possible. Unfortunately, sometimes “retaining” an employee is not the desired course of action.

There are four options with an underperformer: Retrain, move to the side, move down or move out. You are in the position of making the most humane decision for the individual and the wisest one for your company.

The best advice for terminating an employee is to prevent the need in the first place. Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It is best to be proactive rather than reactive with employees so as to avoid the firing scenario altogether.

We will first look at how to prevent the need for firing an employee and then go into the procedures for handling the termination and protecting your company. This is the last recourse.

The first step is to ensure that your hiring procedures are as thorough as possible:

  • Start with a good job description with the goals of the position connected to the financial goals of your company.
  • Do your homework — background checks, reference checks and multiple behavioral interviews.
  • Hiring better can mean training your supervisors. Most employees leave or stay due to their treatment from their first-level supervisor. Supervisors should be trained how to handle their direct reports.
  • Execute an employment agreement (when possible) that defines their commitment to confidentiality, non-compete, non-disparagement and non-solicit.
  • Have a thorough, written onboarding procedure, complete with a 30/60/90 plan of what you expect from the new hire. Be diligent in following this.
  • After a successful 90-day period evaluation, begin your “employee partnershipping process,” including regular performance evaluations.

If/when nonperformance is evident, whether it is the employees 91st day or 25th year, HR and legal should be consulted, and the four-step disciplinary process should start.

At all costs, you want to protect the company and make the termination “litigation proof.”

Verbal warning

When a problem first arises, the employee and his or her supervisor should meet in an attempt to find a solution. At this time, the supervisor may make suggestions designed to help the employee improve his or her conduct or behavior and, thus, eliminate the problem altogether.

Written warning

In the event problems continue, the supervisor should prepare a written warning for the employee outlining the history of the problems, suggesting corrective action and advising the employee of the consequences of continued performance problems. The supervisor will use this memo as an opportunity to counsel the employee in a positive and constructive manner. This is generally referred to as a performance improvement plan (PIP).

A copy of the written warning should be forwarded to the supervisor’s manager as well as placed in the departmental file and the employee’s personnel file. If the matter is resolved at this step, no further action is taken.

Final written warning

This action should take the form of a final written warning to the employee outlining the history of the problems, the consequences of continued problems and a date by which the problems must be resolved.

In essence, a final written warning may also put an employee on probation. A final written warning should normally include the dates of the probationary period. Again, at this step, the supervisor should work with the employee to develop an action program to correct the problem.

A final written warning must be presented in person to the employee by his supervisor, the supervisor’s manager or the departmental/division head. Copies of the notice must be forwarded to the supervisor’s manager and placed in the departmental file and the employee’s personnel file.


Termination of employment is a serious matter. The termination meeting should be quick and clean with no need for further discussion.

In the interest of your company, do all that is possible to ensure no responsibilities of the terminated employee are left undone.

  • Develop succession plans (if you have not already done so) and consider restarting the hiring procedures and filling the employee funnel.
  • Decide on the “off-boarding” process — assigning tasks to other employees or to your replacement employee.
  • Make announcements to staff and customers (when applicable).
  • Start your “autopsy procedure” in which you determine what in the system needs to be improved so as to avoid having to terminate in the future.

There is an old concept in business that you should “hire slowly and fire quickly.” This means that you should take your time when bringing someone into your organization. On the flip side, if it is not working out, let the person go quickly.

Make your organization ready for “firing on all cylinders” when needed.


Barnett Gershen is the owner and CEO of Gershen Consulting LLC, which consults with CEO’s in the industry across the country. He successfully sold the ABS Companies in 2005. You can visit his website at or call him in Houston at (713)839-1990.