#255: What to Do When You Have to Say, “You’re Fired!”

I think any manager with a beating heart will tell you one of the hardest (if not the hardest) things they have ever had to do was to fire an employee. All the HR training in the world doesn’t prepare you for the flood of emotions that come along with the words, “You’re fired!”

Fired
Many thanks to Cody L. for asking this question about the Biblical principles surrounding the termination of employees.

Harold

Just a few days before Christmas I drove to Harold’s house early in the morning. I had to pick up his company car, and all his company supplies and records. Harold had falsified his sales results saying he had been making sales calls when he was relaxing at home. I had fired Harold the day before.

As a young manager, firing Harold was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. He was married. He had children. It was just before Christmas.  But he admitted falsifying records, so a “for cause” termination was my only course of action.

Kahlani

I picked up my boss long before the sun came up and we drove 150 miles north to meet Kahlani. Kahlani’s previous boss noted her lagging sales performance and tried to get her results up to par. She talked a good game—she said she wanted to do well—but she didn’t improve.

When I took over as her manager, I had no choice but to put her on formal probation. For three months, I worked with her regularly to help improve her sales skills. But she just didn’t improve.

As I drove north with my boss, I knew this would be a tough meeting. I had to tell Kahlani she had not met the requirements of her probation. As a result, I was terminating her employment.

As expected, the meeting with Kahlani was difficult. As my boss and I talked through her history of poor results, she finally confessed she didn’t like sales all that much. As we left her, she thanked us for the opportunity to work for a good company, for the time we had invested in helping her, and mostly, for freeing her to move on. It turns out she had wanted to quit for some time but didn’t have the courage.

Whether it is for cause, as it was with Harold, or because of poor performance, as it was with Kahlani, terminating an employee is tough.

Is There a Biblical Basis for Firing?

Christian leaders seem to have an especially hard time terminating an employee. They wonder, “How can I reconcile terminating an employee with God’s call to forgive?” There are many verses, from both the Old and New Testament, that support the call to forgiveness. Here are two examples:

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).

So, if we are to forgive, how can we justify terminating an employee?

While the Scripture does not specifically mention terminating an employee, there are a number of verses that speak to the issue of removing certain individuals because of their behavior.

For example,

Proverbs 22:10 tells us to Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.”

And,

Proverbs 25:5 advises we remove the wicked from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.”

Finally, in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul chastises the Corinthians for boasting about allowing a sexually immoral man to remain in the church. He warned them that such immorality could spread and needs to be dealt with immediately.

“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).

Resolving the Tension

There is tension between these Biblical teachings. On the one hand, we are called to be forgiving. On the other hand, we also have a responsibility to discipline bad behavior up to and including firing the offender.

How do we resolve the tension between these Biblical teachings?

We must balance law and grace.

We must reflect God’s grace as we help those who are struggling to perform at acceptable levels.

We must also protect the organization by taking immediate action with those whose behavior brings harm to the organization.

Next week we’ll examine more specifics on handling the termination interview in “What to Do When You Have to Say, “You’re Fired!” (Part II)

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. What experiences good or bad do you have with terminating employees?

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Category: Skills | Management of Human Resources

 

 

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Christy Dresch says:

    I can imagine the difficulty of having to fire someone, especially as a Christian who has always been taught to be compassionate and forgiving. I resonated with the assertion that we must balance law and grace. We should give grace to employees that are not performing up to standard, but they should not expect that grace to continue if they do not make the necessary improvements.

    • Ron says:

      Christy,
      The last point you made is true, but often a sticking point in the real world. Often people who are not performing up to par want continued grace (forgiveness) despite their poor performance. This tension is what makes it especially hard for the Christian manager.

  • Seth Warwick says:

    As christians, we are always held to a higher standard and expected to be forgiving. I believe that people get this confused with becoming a doormat for others to walk on. When we see something happening that is unethical in the workplace, it is our job to put an end to it. This can be the root of letting someone go from your place of work. This release may be hard at the time, but often you will see growth in the workplace when you remove the thorn from it’s foot. Loved this article!

    • Ron says:

      Seth,
      I agree – part of our role as Christians is to call out unethical behavior in the workplace up to and including letting someone go. Had to smile at your last point – it reminded me of Aesop’s Fable, “The Lion and the Mouse.”

  • Matthew Chang says:

    Firing an employee is hard enough as it is. Especially if it is for reasons that might have meant hard times for them in the future. This is emphasized by the fact that as Christians and our tenant to forgive makes such an event much harder as well. However, the point is that when we enter the workforce, our employer pays us for the work that we do for that company. That being said, I do believe that some amount of grace should be given to maybe rectify any under performances in any way and termination to be used as a last resort.

    • Ron says:

      Law & Grace is where the tension resides. So yes, you are correct, grace should always be applied when possible. Termination, in my mind, is oftentimes an issue of stewardship.