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