A lesson in how NOT to fire an insubordinate employee

by on August 18, 2010 · 8 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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Bob, a supervisor, and Jim, one of her direct reports, just got out of a team meeting. Jim was less than supportive of his co-workers’ efforts and openly challenged Bob in the meeting when he gave him an assignment. Let’s listen in on what they’re saying.

“Jim, what you did in that meeting just now was completely unacceptable,” Bob says.

Jim replies: “Don’t shoot the messenger, Bob. Everyone in the room knew that the new ad strategy was a terrible idea. I was the only one with the guts to say it!”

Bob replies, “That’s not the point. You were rude to the other members of the team, and now I have to rebuild everyone’s confidence that we’re on the right track. And frankly, I don’t like your attitude right now.”

“That’s not my problem,” Jim retorts, “Maybe if you weren’t such a terrible manager I wouldn’t have to point out when everyone else is screwing up.”

By now, Bob is fuming. “That’s it! I’ve had it with you. You’re fired! Clear your desk out, and then I want you out of here within the hour. Otherwise, I’m calling security.”

Hold it right there.

Bob just made one of the biggest mistakes he could have made in dealing with an insubordinate employee like Jim. Sure, it might’ve felt great to finally let Jim have it, especially if he’s been acting like this for a long time. The problem is, Jim recently filed an age discrimination complaint because he was passed over for a raise. Now Bob just gave Jim everything he needed to force the company into a costly lawsuit. Because no matter how he tells the story, it’s going to look like the company fired Jim because he filed the complaint.

The lesson for managers? Simple. Don’t fire anyone when you’re angry (unless there’s an immediate threat to life, health or property). Don’t write up an employee when you’re angry. Don’t dock their pay, send them home or put a memo in their record when you’re angry. Don’t take ANY adverse personnel decision when you’re angry at that person. Because there’s a good chance you’ll do it wrong.

Instead, take a deep breath, walk away, and calmly consider your next step.

And before you act on it, do one more thing: Talk to HR.

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8 Comments on This Post

  1. Dave
    August 18, 2010 - 5:07 pm

    I don’t like having to agree with this one, since I know how good it would’ve felt to just up and can some of the people I used to manage. But a cooler head always leads you down a better road, I suppose.

  2. Dave
    August 18, 2010 - 5:07 pm

    I don’t like having to agree with this one, since I know how good it would’ve felt to just up and can some of the people I used to manage. But a cooler head always leads you down a better road, I suppose.

  3. Dave
    August 18, 2010 - 1:07 pm

    I don't like having to agree with this one, since I know how good it would've felt to just up and can some of the people I used to manage. But a cooler head always leads you down a better road, I suppose.

  4. Dave
    August 18, 2010 - 1:07 pm

    I don't like having to agree with this one, since I know how good it would've felt to just up and can some of the people I used to manage. But a cooler head always leads you down a better road, I suppose.

  5. November 3, 2010 - 10:46 am

    The worst mistake NPR made: Firing Juan Williams while angry

  6. November 3, 2010 - 10:46 am

    The worst mistake NPR made: Firing Juan Williams while angry

  7. January 10, 2011 - 11:03 am

    What to say when an employee leaves

  8. January 10, 2011 - 11:03 am

    What to say when an employee leaves

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