Often, the actual decision to let someone go feels like the
hardest part of the process. You might feel your judgment is flawed
if someone who you interviewed and hired has turned out to be
unsuitable for the position.
Even when the decision is out of your hands (for example if you
need to trim your overheads in tough times), firing a person can
leave you upset and embarrassed.
Whatever the reason, you must approach the process
systematically and practically. If you are too emotional it will
only inflame the situation and upset the staff member/s.
If you are too blunt and ignore the correct procedure, you will
probably find yourself up against the CCMA without a paddle (often
you'll be taken there anyway, but you should always be well
prepared and in the right).
Any employer will tell you that it's very difficult to fire an
employee nowadays, so you MUST go through the correct processes to
legally remove them. Check that there aren't any specifics in your
contract that differ from the general legal requirements before you
go ahead and fire someone.
Following the correct legal processes
It does not matter if you find someone stealing from under your
nose, drunk on the job, or just totally incompetent, you must give
them a series of written warnings before you give them notice in
writing. The exception may be extreme offences, such as physical
violence, selling or giving away company secrets, taking bribes, or
similar. Bear in mind that the Basic Conditions of Employment Act
favours the employee, because an employer generally holds the
Before you let people go you must explore the possibility of
reducing hours, cutting overtime and/or retraining staff. If not,
you need to carefully consider who you let go based on their skills
and years of service.
Remember, you cannot give notice to employees who are on leave
(whether sick, maternity or holiday leave), as this would be
considered wrongful dismissal.
Also keep in mind the minimum notice
- 6 months' service: 1 week's notice required
- 6-12 months' service: 2 weeks' notice required
- 12 months or more: 4 weeks' notice required
What you CAN'T fire people for:
- National origin
- Health (note that you can only fire someone due to ill health
if the medical prognosis predicts them being unwell to the extent
that they won't be able to do their job properly.)
The cost of firing an employee
The process of firing someone and hiring a replacement can be
incredibly costly, especially if the current employee has vital or
Not many companies have systems in place to track these costs,
but some sources put the real cost of firing and rehiring between
30-50% of the annual salary of entry-level employees, 100-150% of
mid-level employees, and 200-400% for specialised, high-level
Many of the costs are "hidden", but do not be fooled - they are
- Exit costs
- Lost productivity
- Customer dissatisfaction
- Reduced or lost business
- Administrative costs
- Lost expertise and company knowledge
Is firing your best option?
If your reasons for giving someone the chop are purely
performance or attitude based, it might be more cost effective to
learn how to manage the person to get more from them instead.
They might be bored and need extra responsibilities or
challenges; they might have personal problems and would respond
well to some time off work; they might be lazy and need more micro
managing and structure; or they might be negative and need more
involvement or training to encourage them to see where the company
Take time to get to understand the person behind the personality
before you make any important decisions.