When to Fire an Employee
It’s never a good start to a busy week when a key technician doesn’t show up for work; even worse, when he doesn’t show up for the rest of the week. We tried calling him, but no luck. We finally got word from his aunt, letting us know he was in the hospital and would be there for about 30 days. She refused to tell us why he was in the hospital. This was four months ago.
The tech—we’ll call him Jim—first came to me a few years ago looking for a job. He was a driver for a local parts store, but wanted to get back into a shop. I liked the way he spoke and carried himself. He seemed mature for someone in his 20s. There was something about this guy that impressed me. I told him that we did not have any full-time openings, but could always use part-time help, if he was interested. He accepted and started that same week, working for us and for the local parts store.
His work ethic was amazing. His attitude was superb. Everyone in the shop liked him and he quickly became an asset to us. He was a solid B technician, and everyone could see this kid had potential. It wasn’t long before we offered him a full-time position. The fear of losing him to another shop was too much to bear. That move proved to be the right choice, or so we thought.
About a year later, Jim began to change. He was coming in late, his productivity started to slip and you could see that he just didn’t have the same enthusiasm he once had. I spoke to him on a number of occasions, asking him if there was anything wrong. He assured me that everything was fine, but I knew it wasn’t.
Jim was going downhill fast. He began calling in sick, leaving work early claiming he wasn’t feeling well, and making a lot of mistakes. Each time I tried to speak with him, he kept silent and struggled to maintain eye contact. Things got really ugly when he destroyed a new set of tires on a Dodge pickup and didn’t tell anyone. The customer came back furious when he noticed the side walls were damaged on all four tires. It was a $1,000 loss for the shop since we had to replace the tires. When I brought it up to Jim, he said, “Those things happen, Joe, what can I say?”
Tension began to build in the shop, as everyone could see the transformation in Jim. It became obvious that I should do something, but I didn’t know what to do. I considered letting him go. But he had such great potential; this kid really impressed me. I couldn’t pull the trigger. No, let’s keep working with him and help him through whatever he was going through, I thought.
Jim’s stay in the hospital turned out to be drug rehabilitation. He called me after he got out and wanted to meet. His aunt also called, asking me to give him another chance. Jim and I went to lunch to work things out. He was rehired a week later.
Things were great. The old Jim was back. Everyone was thrilled that Jim got his life in order and was now back with us producing like we knew he could. Life was good again, or so we thought.
About a month later, Jim began to make mistakes again. He began calling in sick, coming in late and his Jekyll-and-Hyde personality was back. I caught him trying to lift a car with only one side of the rack set up; the car nearly toppled over.
Now, I had to make a decision. I realized that my emotions were clouding my judgment. Jim may be a good person, but his problems could hurt us, himself and our customers. I had to come to terms with the reality of the situation and base my decision on what was in the best interest of everyone, including our customers.
Jim was let go last week; a tough day for me, and I am sure for him too. I truly hope he gets his life straightened out. I wish there was more I could do. I do wonder if I should have done more. While I have no regrets about letting him go, there is an empty feeling inside me.
I’ve always opened the door to my heart for my employees. Sadly, that door is going to be a little harder to open next time around.
Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.