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The Time to Fire

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If shop owners are the heart of auto repair, then the employees are its bones. They support the daily structure of a shop. But when employees falter it can impact everything, including the employer. This is the kind of behavior that leads a shop owner to make a difficult decision: Should the employee be fired or not?

Sometimes, it is better to let someone go to if it means getting rid of a problematic employee. But this doesn’t make the process any easier. Firing an employee is not something any employer necessarily looks forward to doing. But it can be a crucial component of the employer’s job in keeping the shop running at its full potential.

Approaching the task of firing someone can be the most difficult part. It can be hard to navigate— from determining who needs to be fired and determining the reasoning behind your decision. Before making any final decisions, read on for five questions you should be asking before pulling the trigger.

1. Who is really at fault?

Sometimes, a situation is not always as cut and dry as it may seem. An employee may be exhibiting unacceptable behavior, but have you done everything you could have done as an employer to communicate this disrespect with them? Do they know that what they are doing is out of line, or have you lapsed on your end as their employer? Mel Kleiman, owner and president of Humetrics hiring solutions, uses the example of an attendance policy to illustrate this.

“If you’ve got someone who doesn’t show up for work on time, that’s a reason to fire someone.” Kleiman says. “But have you warned them? Have you set these expectations?”

Basically, Kleiman’s point is that there can be temptation to fire someone for their behavior, but it is also on you as the employer to let the employee know that these behaviors are a fireable offense ahead of time.

However, if the issue has already been thoroughly discussed, it then becomes time to assess the process. Give the employee a bit of room and time for improvement, but don’t keep the leash too long.

“I think you’re going to know in 30 days,” Steve Sherif, the service manager at Zimmerman Automotive in Mechanicsburg, Pa.,says.

He and Judy Walter Zimmerman, one of Zimmerman Automotive’s owners, base this breadth of time on a situation they faced not too long ago when they fired an employee. They had a plan in place for improvement, and even saw some once it was implemented.

“You get that knee-jerk reaction of, ‘I need to straighten up or I’m going to lose my job,’” Sheriff says.

But after about 30 days, things shifted.

“There are certain traits that end up working their way back in,” he notes, meaning that some of the initial issues started resurfacing. Because of the employee’s inability to make a solid effort in refocusing, they were let go.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t provide an employee with the opportunity for redemption if you see a possibility for a positive outcome, but don’t allow for that room for error to last too long. Unless you see a dramatic improvement on their end in a reasonable amount of time, then you may need to cut them loose.

2. Is the rest of your staff frustrated with the employee?

The other employees at your shop act as a second pair of eyes. Their perspective can be vital in guiding you in the ultimate decision of whether or not to fire someone.

“You can tell when you have somebody that’s poisoning the well,” Sheriff says of a problematic employee’s potential ripple effect.

One employee’s misguided decisions can impact the shop’s entire population.

“It starts to bleed over into everyone else,” he adds. Be cognizant of this ripple effect, and take the time to address it with other employees because they may have seen things that you haven’t.

“Sometimes you’ll let someone go that you’ve been agonizing over for months,” Zimmerman says. “And then your staff will come in and say, ‘Why didn’t you do that before?’”

Avoid this after-thought by staying in touch with staff and getting ahead of the game on problematic employees. It will ultimately aid the entire shop.

3. Has the issue been clearly communicated with the intent to resolve?

Communication between employer and employee is key.

“Firing should never be a surprise,” says Kleiman.

He recommends having a conversation with the employee about the issue at hand, and creating an action plan with the intention of some resolution. How do you go about this?

Kleiman suggests telling the employee something along the lines of, “I want you to take Friday off, and when you come back on Monday I want you to tell me specifically what you’re going to do so that we don’t have this problem.”

This holds the employee accountable while also providing both you and them the space to give perspective on the situation.

4. Is your shop culture suffering?

Maintaining the reputation of your shop is always a priority. When an employee jeopardizes this, it affects your shop’s culture. This can throw everything off balance, including the way your shop is perceived by customers. It is a high risk situation that can manifest in many different ways. Sheriff lists bad attitudes, showing up late for shifts, and not completing an adequate amount of work in a day’s time as red flags to look out for. Zimmerman adds that outright disrespect, especially of the owner (who they may feel more comfortable bad mouthing as they don’t interact on a daily basis), is a huge one.

“You have to have a team player that likes the company,” she says. “If they don’t like the company, then they need to get out.”

5. Have you been thinking of firing him or her for awhile?

At the end of the day, it all boils down to trusting your instinct. You know your shop best, after all. Kleiman says you should take note of when your thoughts begin to get into firing territory.

“Learn to fail fast,” Kleiman says. “The first time you start thinking about firing someone is when you should start to do it.”

The process of firing an employee could look different to each employer, but the main takeaway is that the actions of an employee may be putting your business on the line. Don’t drag your feet if you see an issue— take action.

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