What's a Reasonable Reason to Fire Someone?When does an employee merit talking to or letting go?

Letting go of an employee is never an easy decision. However, at times, it’s the best option for both parties.

Under UK law, employees have a right not to be unfairly dismissed.

If you’re unhappy with an employee’s performance or behaviour, you should attempt to work with them to solve the issue in the first instance. 

Doing so will ensure mutual respect and avoid unfair dismissal claims. If you’re unsure whether or not your employee’s behaviour warrants dismissal, we’ll walk you through some of the most common complaints and whether they’re sackable offences. 

Consistent lateness

When an employee is consistently late, it can have a detrimental effect on your business. This is especially impactful if you’re a customer-facing business and there aren’t enough staff to serve customers due to lateness. 

If a staff member has poor timekeeping, there tends to be a reason behind it. The cause of lateness could be mental health issues making it hard to wake up on time or external demands such as childcare. 

It’s advisable to speak to the employee in the first instance and work together to find a solution. This could mean changing their shift times or putting them on a flexible working pattern. 

Once you’ve agreed on a plan of action, scheduling software such as Findmyshift makes it simple to track their arrival time. This will allow you to monitor their timekeeping for signs of improvement.

If the issue persists for a prolonged period after the suggested adjustments, it may be time to let them go. Repeated lateness can negatively affect your bottom line and cause feelings of resentment among other staff members who have to cover shifts.

Poor performance

When you hire a new starter, you’re bringing them on board to undertake a particular role based on their professed skills. If an employee is no longer performing their duties or displaying the skills necessary for the job, it’s sometimes necessary to let them go. 

If you notice that a staff member isn’t performing their duties to the desired standard, the first step should be to sit down with them and let them know your concerns. 

It’s worth figuring out if there’s an underlying issue causing the poor performance and whether that’s something you can support. 

You should then implement a performance improvement plan, outlining your expectations in detail and eventually measuring the outcome with KPIs. Any issues in the workplace that are barriers to their improvement should be solved, giving them the best opportunity to develop. 

If the employee’s performance doesn’t improve after implementing the improvement plan, you may have to fire them on the grounds of capability.

Excessive absenteeism

Absenteeism is a widespread problem in the workplace. In fact, absenteeism cost UK business £18 billion during 2020

Occasional sickness from employees is unavoidable and to be anticipated in the workplace. That said, in some situations, employees are absent from work much more frequently than you’d typically expect. 

If your profits and productivity feel the effect of these recurrent absences, or you have reason to believe the absences aren’t genuine, this could warrant grounds for dismissal. 

Before handing out P45s, you should first implement mitigating measures to try and tackle the issue. You can start by reviewing your sickness absence policy to ensure a clear framework for reporting and managing staff absences. 

You should conduct return to work interviews when an employee returns from sickness leave, allowing you to probe the reasons behind the absence.  

If an employee’s frequent absences are negatively impacting the company’s productivity, or you don’t believe that the absences are genuine, you should invite the employee in question to a meeting. 

If appropriate, medical evidence such as doctor’s notes can be requested as proof. You should also allow the employee to improve the situation and set a time frame during which this improvement should be made.

If the excessive absences continue after the specified time frame, you may consider that dismissal is the only avenue left on the grounds of capacity or conduct. 

Gross misconduct

Gross misconduct is behaviour so damaging on the part of the employee that it warrants instant dismissal—in many cases without notice.  

Gross misconduct covers serious transgressions such as showing up to work under the influence, bullying, harassment, bribery and theft. Acts of gross misconduct must be deliberate. 

If you suspect a case of gross misconduct has occurred, you should still investigate the incident and give the employee a chance to explain. 

There are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes gross misconduct, so you should ensure that your company’s definition of gross misconduct is clearly outlined in employee contracts or the staff handbook. 

Since gross misconduct represents behaviour so harmful that it destroys the employer/employee relationship, dismissal tends to be the most obvious and reasonable approach. 

The bottom line

Firing and hiring can be expensive and time-consuming, with the average cost of hiring a new employee coming in at £3,000

Given the costs associated with recruitment and the legalities around unfair dismissal, it’s essential to give employees the chance to resolve issues before deciding to fire them. 

Whatever action you take when an employee is not performing to standard, make sure you stick to your company policies, their employment contract and UK laws around dismissal

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