As an employer, you may eventually find yourself in the difficult position of needing to terminate an employee who your customers love. This situation can be tricky and frustrating, and need special care to successfully navigate. Your customers may ask what happened to the employee, and if you handle the situation poorly, you can damage the morale of your remaining employees, as well cause problems with the culture of your business place.
For the purpose of this post, we’re assuming that the employee hasn’t done something unforgivable or criminal, like stealing, leaking information, or harassing another person.
Consider why customers loved the employee
When deciding upon your best course of action, it’s important to understand why customers liked the employee in question. Is it because the employee will talk to them all day without ever cutting them off? Do they give out inappropriate discounts or treat their favorite customers better than other clients?
If customers like your employee because they get things from the employee that harm the business, the fact that customers like the employee should not factor into your decision to retain them or not. If, however, the reasons that clients like the employee in question are due to excellent service, then you might want to examine your options before you make the final decision to terminate them.
Is there a way to reassign job duties?
Take a careful look at why termination seems to be the best option. Is there some portion of their job the employee just doesn’t do well at? If they’re a complete customer service rockstar, but struggle with the paperwork aspect of their job, for example, it might be worth trying to compensate for the moving expenses. It is much more difficult to train someone to be excellent with service than it is to show someone how to complete paperwork.
Would retraining help the situation?
Is it possible that the employee just does not have sufficient training or skills to complete the portion of the job which is leading to termination? Have you tried different methods of retraining, including compensation for any learning difficulties or disabilities the employee may have? Computer systems, for example, might be mastered with more intense, one-on-one training, or additional time allowed for the employee to complete paperwork related tasks.
If none of this is going to help, and you need to move forward with termination, some things to consider.
Should you let the employee say goodbye?
When you terminate an employee, many employers work to get the employee out of the office as soon as possible. The thought behind this is that disgruntled employees do the most damage on their way out. But if you have faith in the employee, and the parting is ultimately amicable, it might benefit you and the employee to give them a chance to say goodbye to their customers.
If you’re truly concerned that the employee is going to steal information or try to poach clients on their way out, then escorting them might very well be the way to go, but it’s a very aggressive action. If you can avoid it, it may be worthwhile.
At the bare minimum, make sure you have access to all client lists and computer systems before the employee leaves, so that you can hand off their client list to another member of the team.
Don’t share privileged information
In the aftermath of firing an employee that your customers loved, you may get both other employees and clients asking why the employee was terminated. Resist the urge to explain yourself. Stick with something neutral, such as “this was no longer the right fit,” and refuse to deviate. If someone presses, be willing to say “Unfortunately, I’m not able to share that information. What can I help you with today?” or some variant.
Information regarding the reason for an employee’s termination is generally considered protected, and sharing that with either other employees or clients can leave a company open to lawsuits, should the employee be able to prove that it happened.
This can leave a business in an awkward position, where the employee is able to say things about their termination that the company feels they cannot refute. Our best advice? If you believe that the employee is harming your business, speak to a lawyer to find out the best way to proceed. If they’re just blowing off steam, let them. Don’t engage, don’t address, just let them calm down on their own. Especially if the termination came out of the blue for the employee, they may be upset for a time, but will probably move on, especially if you were able to help them find another position on their way out.