the most unpleasant task faced by any employer is telling an employee that
life as they knew it is over. The relationships they have formed, the
routine of a workday and their sole source of income Ė gone.
Laid off, fired, a mutual parting of the ways. . . Call it
what you will, but itís obviously a traumatic event for the employee,
and is no cakewalk for the employer, either.
In fact, Iíve often thought how advantageous it would be to
have an outside service handle the unpleasantness. The company could be
called "The Terminators," and cruise around town in a big white
van with its logo emblazoned on its side.
Dressed in slick three-piece suits, professional termination
consultants would slither in and handle the firings in a cool, calm,
Or better yet, the van would have a bell like an ice cream
truck and they would just drive by the entrance of a company and pause
just long enough to make everyone wonder if they were stopping, and then
Do that two or three times a day and productivity might
Unfortunately, contracting with "The Terminators"
would be the easy way out and highly inappropriate in todayís sensitive
American workplace. Uprooting an employeeís life is a responsibility
that cannot be delegated. I should know Ė Iíve tried many times.
In the end, the inescapable conclusion is that I have to do
the dirty deed. I ask Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, to get a
final paycheck ready and request that the hapless employee come see me in
In my mind, there are two kinds of termination. One is for
cause and the other is for an inability to meet the standards of the
The first example is infinitely more fulfilling, at least for
me. My business is primarily retail, which requires employees to handle
cash, which invites temptation, which can cause an occasional lapse of
honesty, which will ultimately cause the loss of a job.
It doesnít happen often, but with 45 employees coming and
going, we get a sporadic "bad egg." When we have developed solid
proof that the employee was indeed dipping into the company coffers, then
I have no need for "The Terminators." Iíd rather do this kind
of firing myself.
It always fascinates me to listen to the denials. Weíll
have videotape conclusively proving the employee did not ring up a sale
(thereby pocketing the cash amount) and theyíll deny it.
"Look, Doris," I will say, "here you are on
camera stuffing the cash in your purse. How can you deny it?"
"I could never do that," she replies. Fifteen
minutes of grilling later, she admits, well, OK, she did do it once, but
thatís all. It just happened to be, (can you believe the coincidence?)
that time we caught her.
Hasta la vista, Doris, and good riddance. The amount
she admitted taking is never enough to prosecute so all we can do is fire
her. I give her my usual speech about how what she did is no different
from robbing a bank but, as usual, it goes right over her head. It is
different, she is thinking. You can go to jail for robbing a bank.
Finally, I simply tell her I hope sheís learned a valuable lesson
and I show her the door. We canít give her a second chance because itís
likely the only lesson she learned was how to avoid detection.
While that kind of termination is almost a cleansing
experience, the second example is just plain miserable. Itís also much
Iíve been through it so many times. An employee is no
longer producing. For the benefit of everyone, itís time for a change,
and everyone knows it, including the employee. All they need is a little
They walk into my office, smiling, oblivious to their world
crashing in around them. Half an hour or even an hour later, they walk
out, reeling. But first they stop to shake my hand and thank me for the
opportunity to work for the company.
How do I do it? Iíd like to believe the employee listened
intently to my speech about all their positive attributes and how they
could be very successful in the right position with the right company. Or
how sometimes the best thing that can happen to a person is to be fired
from the rut in which they were existing.
All true, but all fluff. What really softens the blow is the
generous severance pay package I give to key employees when we have a
mutual parting of the ways.
It beats paying "The Terminators."