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On owning your mistakes and letting a fired employee resign instead

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: June 10, 2019
  • Published June 10, 2019

Q: Eight months ago, after working for years for bosses I couldn’t stand, I quit my job and launched my own small business with an investment from my parents. My wife and I celebrated and I kicked myself for not taking this leap of faith earlier.

I expected success. My customers have always told me “you’re the best” and “your bosses are lucky to have you, I hope they start realizing it.” I told my parents I’d pay them back their loan with interest within the year.

Everything started out great. I took with me many of the customers for whom I’d worked. Then, I lost my largest client due to a misunderstanding on their part. When this client took their business back to my former employer, I wound up on my former boss’s radar. He and his lawyers then threatened to sue me for “stealing” some of his clients and this caused an unreasonable amount of stress for my parents and me. Then, a problem with an employee I hired set me back weeks as I was left cleaning up his mess. I also received bad advice and wound up paying more than anticipated for insurance and my computer server.

Obviously, it’s taking longer than I had planned to turn a profit due to circumstances outside my control. I’m thinking of deep-sixing this business unless you can give me an idea of how to kick-start it and make it a success.

A: When I read your letter, I noticed how easily you blame others. You worked for bad bosses. A client’s misunderstanding cost you a major client. An employee harmed you. Bad advice cost you money. The comment “I hope they start realizing it” tells me you vented to others about your bosses.

You can kick-start your business and yourself with honesty. You need to stop blaming your problems on circumstances outside your control as this wastes precious time and energy. This change may prove hard for you because you currently tell yourself and others an “I’m the hero” story in which “you’re the best” and “they” need to realize it.

If you want to succeed as a small-business owner, you need to own your mistakes so you can move past them and achieve success. In small business, unexpected problems litter the road ahead and the buck stops with you as the owner. You hired, trained and oversaw your employee. You’re the one who cut the check for your server and insurance. You took your former employer’s customers and possibly violated a non-compete or anti-poaching clause.

Do you want this much “ownership”?

Q: This morning, I called an employee into my office to fire him. He asked if he could resign instead and I said “no problem.” All I really cared about was having this employee gone. I didn’t fall into some type of legal trap, did I?

A: I prefer letting employees resign. Allowing employees to resign enables them to retain dignity and more easily get future jobs. Firing results in a long-term black mark on their job history that they have to explain to each prospective employer.

According to the four attorneys I polled, employers face risk fewer risks when they allow employees to save face by resigning. A few caveats — do not cut corners in documenting this separation. Your employee may still file a wrongful termination lawsuit claiming you forced him to resign. He may also claim you fired him when he realizes that resigning delays his unemployment benefits. Also, decide now how you’ll handle reference checking calls from potential employers.