Lynne Curry: He's being fired; when should we give him the bad news?

Lynne Curry

Q. We're planning to fire one of our employees. It's a decision we've put off for months because we kept hoping things would improve. They haven't. Even though we've invested dozens of hours in counseling him, he just doesn't put in the effort we expect from someone in his position.

He leaves in two days on a Hawaiian vacation. My partner thinks we should wait until he comes back to let him know we're terminating him so we don't ruin his vacation. I'd just as soon be done with this situation, so I'm pushing to tell him today and pay him to the end of the week. Who's right?

A. If you already know you're going to fire the employee, tell him now. If you don't and he overspends on his vacation thinking he'll have income when he returns, you risk throwing him for a financial loop.

If you tell him now, he can use his vacation time to mentally regroup and arrive home rested, ready to job hunt. Also, if this termination may take your employee completely by surprise, consider providing severance pay to cushion the blow -- particularly if your handbook asks employees to give two weeks' notice.

Q. Some of my co-workers, including my immediate supervisor, give every co-worker and employee a Christmas gift year after year. This makes me uncomfortable, so I just ignore the fact I get these presents.

Am I supposed to give them gifts in return? Although I have the money to do so, I prefer to spend my money on my family and close friends. The people I work with are just that -- people I work with.

A. You don't need to give presents; those who give gifts don't always expect one in return. You do need to say thanks; if you don't, you demonstrate a lack of class. Also, you might consider giving a low-cost but thoughtful present such as a homemade loaf of banana nut bread as thanks -- especially if you ultimately enjoy the gifts you receive. If you have a change of heart, January's not too late.

Q. One of our employees is always asserting her rights. Lately, she's taped all disciplinary meetings with her supervisor and me. While neither of us would say anything at these meetings that we wouldn't want taped, we don't like being intimidated.

You might ask why we don't fire her; our office manager says we could lose a retaliation lawsuit because it's an employee's right to tape.

A. Although any employee with a pocket and a smartphone can surreptitiously tape conversations, if you have a written policy limiting taping in your workplace, you don't have to let this employee use her tape recorder to intimidate.

A recent National Labor Relations Board case shows how the NLRB views workplace policies restricting employees from recording workplace conversations. An administrative law judge ruled that Whole Foods Market's national policy banning employees from recording workplace "conversations" was lawful because employers can "make lawful rules regulating employee conduct" and have a legitimate business interest in maintaining an internal culture in which employees can "speak up and speak out." The policy's purpose was "to eliminate a chilling effect ... when one person is concerned that his or her conversation with another is being secretly recorded."

Other reasons for anti-taping policies include maintaining employee and customer privacy and safeguarding confidential company information and trade secrets.

Finally, when an employee holds you hostage, you need an attorney. While you're searching for one and having this situation assessed, you may decide you need this employee off premises. If so, placing her on paid administrative leave gives you a safer option than firing her.


Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through


Lynne Curry