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How to manage a team when you don't have the authority to fire anyone

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | The Workplace
  • Updated: May 16, 2017
  • Published May 16, 2017

Need to fire someone from your team but lack the authority? Learn to make a solid case for terminations to your superiors. (Getty)

Q: I supervise 15 employees, the largest crew in our company, and I report to the general manager. I'm expected to handle employees who don't show up on time or do what they're supposed to — but I'm not allowed to fire anyone. That's the prerogative of one person only, the general manager.

That's like giving responsibility without authority, and since my manager reads your column I hope you'll write why it makes zero sense. Here's the problem. I need to fire two employees. Not only are both problems, but when everyone else sees these two getting away with murder, others on the crew realize I have no power, or, as one today told me to my face, "You're all bark and no bite."

Meanwhile, the GM tells me he won't fire anyone without the human resources officer, who's in another state, approving my documentation. Doesn't it make sense for the person directly supervising employees to handle discipline?

A: Many organizations make a mistake when they assign employees responsibility without authority. In firing situations, however, front-line supervisors rarely have full firing authority.

If you fire someone and the situation blows up in your face, the employee who feels wrongfully discharged sues the company. While you may or may not be named as a defendant, your company's wallet takes the biggest hit in terms of legal fees and any ultimate legal settlement. While you make a good case for you being the one who makes the firing decisions because you know what's going on with your employees' work performance, your general manager deserves the final say and HR can keep you and your company out of legal hot water.

How, then, do you get your "bite"? By providing your manager and HR the documentation needed to justify the terminations. Don't expect either of them to approve firing employees based solely on your say-so or on documentation that might not hold up in court. In other words, make your case and then both your GM and HR can put the teeth into your bite.

Q: When my father died, he willed my older brother and me equal shares in our family business. My older brother's a bully and has pushed me around for years. It got so bad that when I saw a message from him in my inbox, it ruined my whole day.

I finally decided to buy him out. The negotiations took an anguishing six months and I paid him a 50 percent premium on his shares' market value.

What I hadn't realized was how miserable he'd made other employees. After he left our company, everyone drew a sigh of relief and our company grew more profitable. Not only that, but we just won a major contract that doubled our revenue — and our business' value. I was giddy and told my sister about it. The next day, my brother called, threatening to sue, alleging I'd been aware of this contract before I'd purchased his shares and that he'd sue me for ripping him off. It's like a nightmare all over again and I'm wondering if the best way out of this is to tell our prospective client that we can't accept their contract.

A: One of the classic markers of a bully is the desire to ruin his target's feeling of accomplishment or relief. Another marker of a bully is to sound off before, during and after a battle to demonstrate his power to others and himself.

Although you may want to seek legal counsel, stop fearing your brother. Unless you knew this potential contract loomed prior to your buyout, you paid your brother a more than fair price and you and your employees have since won a victory. Savor it.

Meanwhile, while you can't underestimate your brother and may need to strategically prepare for his onslaught, don't let him rent space in your mind. You're the landlord. Not only that, but forewarned is forearmed. Your brother's saber-rattling gives you full opportunity to connect with legal counsel and ask, "Does he have any case?" If your attorney says "no," realize you have a choice. You can continue to let your brother dominate you or you can decide "enough is enough" and put his threats in your rearview mirror.

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