Devan Moonsamy

Movies always seem to show an employer firing an employee after a heated conversation. It has been dramatized and often misleads the viewer to think that this is how a person should be fired. The reality is that there are laws in place to protect employees from being victims of unfair dismissal.  

The words “You’re fired” have got to be the most feared words for an employee to hear. However, when an employer sees that time and time again an employee is performing poorly, this might be the only option. 

However, the dismissal of an employee does not occur immediately. Infact we can’t observe an employee for a day and then make a decision to fire them. Before we make a decision to let a person go, we must look at how we can help them improve. If we do see an improvement in their work then we don’t need to action a dismissal plan. But if there is no change then this might be the only option we have. 

Dismissing an employee is never easy. It comes with careful consideration and the decision must be made with the correct research and observation.  According to the South African labour guide it is not appropriate to dismiss an employee for a first offense however if the misconduct is serious and the gravity of the offense makes the employment relationship intolerable.  

Some of the examples of serious misconduct range from gross dishonesty, wilful damage to the property of the employer, endangering to the safety of others, physical assault of the employer, fellow employee or customer. In short, whatever the case for the dismissal, it will not be fair if it does not meet the necessary requirements in section 188 of the Labour Relations act. 

When the question of an underperforming employee needing to be sacked comes up, the discussion around who hired this person also becomes a hot topic. As much as the interview process and references are meant to weed out unprofessional individuals, unfortunately some of them slip through undetected. This does not mean the interview process failed but rather a new strategy should be looked into when conducting interviews to eradicate any potential candidates who do not meet the expectation. 

Here are a few ways to help employers manage the situation of dismissal in the work place: 

  • Before an employee is sent to the chopping board, we must assess to see if there is any potential for improvement. Chances are that a number of facts could have been the reason for the employee to be in this predicament. If this is the case then it is advisable to do regular catch-up session with your team to evaluate performance and identify which employees need improvement. 
  • It is essential that all information around the employee that needs assistance be documented correctly. That means making sure you have emails to show that steps have been taken to get the employee to improve however due to the lack of improvement the steps of termination of employment had to be taken. You should also inform HR of the situation around the employee and liaise with them regularly on the best steps to handle the situation. 
  • When you need to fire an employee, it is important that you are clear and concise. Avoid tip toeing around the issue and know exactly what you will be saying to them. It is even encouraged to rehearse what will be said to them. Ensure you know why you are firing them and have the proper documentation. 
  • Firing someone is not something to be done on the sales floor. It needs to occur behind a closed door in a private setting. An employee should not be humiliated. When someone is fired at work it also puts strain on the other employees in the office in terms of when they could possibly be on the chopping block. If they are friends with the employee that has been fired, a discussion around what transpired could impact their work spirit. If you let a person, go in a heated argument chances are the rest of the office will hear about it. It is for this reason that letting someone go must be done with dignity. 
  • It is crucial to remember then when you have to step into a room to fire someone have a witness, the proper documentation and be prepared for any questions from the person being fired. They might want to know if they should work out the rest of the day or question why they are being fired. Being prepared for some of those questions and also for their reaction to the news is a good way to help them deal with the situation. 

It is never easy to have to tell someone they are being let go but it has to be done. Sending managers and leaders on leadership and management courses can prepare them with the skills needed to handle difficult situations like this.

Devan Moonsamy is the CEO of ICHAF Training Institute, a South African TVET College. He is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute. 

The ICHAF Training Institute offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

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