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How to Fire Someone Who Is Not a ‘Good Fit’

January 15, 2019 by Josh Hrala

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Normally, when we talk about firing an employee, it’s because the employee has broken the rules or has failed to perform their job duties. This leaves many organizations wondering if they can fire someone for not being a ‘good fit,” which isn’t misconduct or really even the employee’s fault at all.

The short answer is yes, you can fire someone for being a poor cultural fit at your organization if your state follows ‘at-will’ employment (hint: all but Montana).

So why would you want to fire someone who is not a good fit? What steps can you take to move the process further? And, most importantly, what aspects of the move do you have to pay special attention to?

Let’s dive in by first exploring what a ‘good fit’ employee is and how poor fits can damage your business practices.

What is a Poor Cultural Fit?

Terms like ‘good fit’ and ‘bad fit’ sound a bit strange when you first hear them. However, most people are talking about the same thing: an employees ability to fit in with their coworkers and the company’s culture in a way that allows them to get along with everyone and perform their role.

It stands to reason that different companies operate differently internally. They have different cultures, work ethics, and personalities. This is why many organizations put so much emphasis on who they hire, because they don’t want someone to get onboarded only to find out that they work differently than everyone else and may, potentially, cause conflicts.

How to Fire Someone Who Is Not a 'Good Fit'

For example, an organization may value hard work but also humor (within reason, obviously). Just because a new hire is a hard worker, doesn’t mean that they are the best person for the job because if they can’t take a joke or join in with the rest of the staff, they’re going to feel alienated. These feelings can lead to poor production and also may cause a riff in the workplace.

Because of this, many organizations struggle to find workers who will not only perform their normal job duties to their fullest but also fit into the team that is already in place.

Needless to say, this is no easy feat, which is why organizations need to understand how to fire someone who isn’t a good fit.

The good news is that this isn’t that hard of task if you put everything in the proper order and follow a well-crafted offboarding process.

Let’s get into that now.

When Can You Fire Someone Who Is Not a Good Fit?

Firing someone who is a poor fit at your organization is a definite possibility. First, though, you have to consider a few things.

The biggest concern with firing someone who is not a good fit is that you have to make sure that the claim against the person isn’t discriminatory.

This seems simple enough, right? You’re making the move because the person doesn’t fit in – not because they are of a protected class. But, in reality, it’s not that simple.

Let’s say you have a workforce that is predominantly white and male. If an asian woman is hired and fired for being a poor fit, there’s a case to be made that she was let go because of her race and sex, which is discriminatory. This can be said even if the real reason she was let go is because her personality didn’t mesh well with the organization.

How to Fire Someone Who Is Not a 'Good Fit'

So how do you make sure that your practices are all above board when it comes down to firing a poor fit employee? Basically, you have to be able to show that you have a policy that indicates that you let go people who don’t fit in.

Just like firing anyone, you should have a written outline of how people are let go, documenting everything the person did for you to come to your decision. This helps show the timeline of events and how they played out so, if you are taken to court, you will be able to show what happened officially.

“You have to be very sure that you’re not discriminating or it doesn’t look like you’re discriminating, should the person be in a protected class,” explains HR consultant Arlene Vernon to ZipRecruiter.

“If the person is in a protected class, you can still terminate, but you want to make sure that you have more documented evidence of the person’s inability to learn and perform the job as protection.”

That all being said, the key takeaway here is that yes, you can fire someone for not being a good fit. To do so, make sure your actions are not discriminatory – either consciously or unconsciously – by having a proper termination policy in place that shows how someone is fired, for what reasons someone can be fired, and a documentation process that shows how the termination was carried out.

How to Fire Someone Who Is Not a Good Fit

Alright, now that we have covered a lot of what it takes to fire a poor fit employee, how do you actually do it?

First, you need have a process figured out that can help you identify poor fit employees. Now, this can be quite easy to spot simply by looking at how your team operates with the new person. However, a policy on paper will make this whole process easier and more legally sound.

After you have a way to identify poor fit employees, you must start to document their behavior and how it is not meshing well with your team and/or culture. By keeping a record of what’s happening, you can make sure that termination goes off without a hitch.

How to Fire Someone Who Is Not a 'Good Fit'

To actually terminate the employee, we recommend alerting them via a meeting and an official letter. Some people may decide to send the letter via email then hold the meeting. Some hand over the letter during a meeting. Either way, a written letter is necessary.

A meeting is also needed, though, so the person can ask questions and you, the HR leader, can help quell emotions while also giving them the details of the termination and what the next steps will be.

Since a poor fit firing is generally different than a firing due to misconduct or some other behavioral issue, it’s recommended that they be offboarded more like a layoff than a firing.

You can learn all about the differences between layoffs and firings here.

The main difference is that you may want to consider adding a severance package during a poor fit hiring, which you normally wouldn’t do when it comes to a normal firing.

Severance agreements not only protect the organization from lawsuits down the road, they also provide the employee with a lump payment in return for their signature, allowing them to more easily move on to a new role. After all, you want this person to succeed elsewhere even if they are a poor fit at your organization.

Download Our Guide To Improving Severance Agreements!

Alongside the severance agreement, you should also offer outplacement services. As a refresher, outplacement is a service offered to outbound workers that utilizes expert coaching, cutting-edge technologies, and learning platforms to help displaced workers land new roles quicker than if they were to go it alone.

Be extending outplacement services to your staff member, you show that you truly want them to succeed outside of the organization. It can help smooth out emotions and also allow the employee to land on their feet after the event.

You can learn all about outplacement here, and you can get pricing details by clicking the link below:

Download the pricing information for our outplacement programs here.

Firing Someone Who Is Not a Good Fit: The Wrap Up

When all is said and done, you are definitely empowered to fire bad fit employees who do not mesh well with your culture.

To do so, ensure that you treat the firing with care by documenting all actions and making a case to let them go. We recommend you do this for every firing because it shows why the move was made and helps protect against claims of discrimination.

Though it should go without saying, you need to make sure that you are legitimately not discriminating against workers because of their race, sex, religion, etc. Always talk to your legal counsel if you have any questions about following local, state, and federal laws. We are not lawyers.

Once you have the case made to actually fire the employee, we recommend notifying them with a meeting and written letter. You should also seriously consider offering outplacement services alongside a well-crafted severance agreement that details the termination and protects you from lawsuits.

If you handle it properly, offboarding a poor fit employee doesn’t have to be super stressful. Just make sure you plan in advance even if you can, technically, fire people at will. 

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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