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I have been "considering my options" concerning one person in my auto repair business. While he is a valuable team member in some respects he also has some interpersonal issues that I don't feel are helpful for running the shop the way I want it to be run. Unfortunately, I am not able to be there to see the issues first hand so it's always a he said/she said.

This got me to thinking, when is the appropriate time to lay someone off when they are an integral part of the team? I need to replace them so bringing in people for interviews would be an obvious sign of being let go. I would like them to help with the transition but understand that that could be difficult for them.

Having several weeks of disappointed customers while looking for a replacement would not be good for business.

If I had decided to let them go, at some point in the future, say one month, would it be unethical or immoral to 'sneak around behind their back' trying to find someone to replace them? I've been struggling with my values of being open and honest with not wanting to have an employee (potentially) sabotage my business.

Is it ok to do things behind the scenes and keep an employee 'in the dark'? Or should one let them know as soon as a decision is made?

Edit:

The question is not "Should I let this person go?" nor is it "What can I do to determine if I should let them go?"

The question is, if I have decided to let someone go, WHEN should I tell them and are there any ethical or moral issues around not telling them as soon as the decision is made?

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    Are they aware that their behavior could potentially result in them being let go? Or do they think they're doing just fine? In other words, are you communicating with them or do you plan on blindsiding them? (This is only tangentially related to your question.) – thursdaysgeek Feb 15 at 18:46
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    @thursdaysgeek, good question. Yes, I have talked to them about doing things a different way and that I want them to go to training to learn a different way of doing things but they've resisted each time. But also no, I have never explicitly said they could be let go. – CramerTV Feb 15 at 18:50
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    It's very relevant if someone else has reported behaviour that crosses a boundary to fall into legal definitions of harassment in your jurisdiction!!! – Affe Feb 15 at 18:55
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    Where are you located? What you legally and even morally can do differs to lot between, say the USA and Europe where there are many more worker rights. – Abigail Feb 15 at 19:23
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    I really reckon the best thing is just "do it cleanly". Kindly let the person go immediately, giving them a couple weeks wages which is probably your system, and they leave this very day and that's it done. Then you have a clean slate and you can search/etc with no sneaking around. It's much better. – Fattie Feb 15 at 19:27
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You need to start off by talking to the "problem" employee and explain there have been complaints about their behavior and that it needs to stop/change their approach because it is causing problems in the work place. If it continues...

It would not be unethical to get a replacement behind their back. You need to put your family and self first and then your business and employees' families. The way I see it is the employee did it to themselves; you gave them every opportunity to change/improve and they betrayed your trust in them. Once you are at a point where you are committed to firing this employee, get a replacement* and let them go with no notice. If you are worried about them, you are free to provide severance.

*You can always interview replacements away from the actual job site.

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The first and foremost thing you should do is talk to them. Especially if they are a 'valuable team member in some respects,' you should give them the chance to see reason, and to realise that while they are a part of business, this can only be true if they respect their colleagues, customers, job, and the business itself.

They will react to this in one of two ways:

  • To accept that they need to change their ways (and make an effort to!); or
  • To reject any idea that they are being problematic and continue being a problem to the company.

If the latter is the case, or they don't make a valid effort, disregard them.
They need to accept you as having business as your best interest. In this case, you don't even need to go behind their back; finding a replacement should be top of your list.


I can see you are trying to do the right thing, without offending anyone or putting them in a difficult situation, so remember to be sensitive of their views and needs while showing them that they have complete control over what happens. They can choose whether you have to find a new employee or not. They are the one who has been upsetting customers. Having an employee sabotaging your business just can't happen; for business sake, and for your own sake! It's no fun working with a difficult/sad-ass colleague...

Just remember it's in your hands, but in theirs too. They can make things change, but you ultimately choose the outcome.

  • I'm not sure I see the answer to my question. Let's say I took your advice and then decided to let them go. Should I look for a replacement while they are employed or let them go immediately and then look for a replacement? Is there a moral or ethical concern with either approach? – CramerTV Feb 15 at 19:51
  • @CramerTV It's about realising that they need to either co-operate, or leave. I of course do not know how much of a problem this person is: if their role is important to the company, keep them until you can replace them seamlessly. If they are annoying you more than they are worth, let them go. Personally, on the morals and ethics of it all, I think that as long as they are aware of whats going on and why, you should do what you think is best – Benj Feb 15 at 20:02
  • I think also that we, meaning everyone who answers this question, could only provide you with a solid, definitive answer if we were with you the whole time this situation unfolded. We weren't of course, therefore we must provide you with enough different views and perspectives for you to work out the right answer yourself – Benj Feb 15 at 22:00
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It sounds like you’ve already discussed the issues with him. I'd just suggest you make sure you clearly laid out why he’s valuable and appreciated, what the issue is and the impacts of that issue. And try to get his buy in. No classes is fine if he can propose/demonstrate some other way of solving the issue.

If that goes nowhere, you are well within your rights to look for someone else. Beyond that, don’t you owe it to the others who’ll be there after he’s gone to make the transition easier? Your empathy toward him speaks well of you, but don’t overlook what his behavior is doing to everyone else. Figure out what kind of severance you can afford, then take care of everyone who will still be part of the picture (your family, your business, your other staff and even your customers). If you try too hard to shield him, the transition after the fact will be harder on everyone else.

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