I'm a specialist at my company. Almost a year ago we hired someone to help me out (before, I was the only programmer in my department). He proved to be below average, but has been helpful in taking simple tasks off my plate during a big project. The plan was to train him up over the course of the project to be able to handle more advanced material. This training plan was clearly communicated to him.

In the course of training I've realized he is absolutely incompetent. I was very patient with him, but his work is not up to standard. I feel unable to trust him to write even a simple "fizzbuzz"-style program unaided, even if I had solved similar problems with him the previous day and gave him excess time and hints. I am confident in this judgement, as I'm his direct supervisor. Management trusts me completely, but would like to keep him until the end of said project.

I've tried giving him work in other areas, including in other departments, but he's been unsuccessful there too. I've discussed his low performance with him, but he is very eager and enthusiastic. He seems to overestimate his own ability even when problems are demonstrated to him.

So, I made my decision: once the project is finished, he will be laid off. I expect this to take another few months. My decision is final, and I'm certain that there is not another place at the company for him. I have two choices:

  1. Tell him now. This might significantly reduce his dedication to the current project, and he might leave before it is finished, which would be a setback.

  2. Wait until 2 weeks before firing him; this is the minimum notice period required by law. For the sake of the company and the project this would be the most optimal solution, but it would weigh on my conscience to do so. He should have at least some time to search for a new job, and in our area, it's hard to find one at short notice.

How do I weigh these options to make the best choice?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Jun 22, 2016 at 21:55
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    "...he will be laid off." No, he'll be fired. Laying off employees is done for reasons unrelated to their performance, such as financial stress on the company. Jun 23, 2016 at 8:42
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    "I've discussed his low performance with him" Are you sure about that? Have you clearly told him that his performance is at the level where it's jeopardising his job? Because that's what you should have done. Giving someone advance notice that they'll be fired isn't required and rarely done, but not giving someone clear feedback about their performance is a huge management failure. No sugar coating, no "I'd like to see you...", no "it would be great if you could...". The conversation should have been: "what I need from someone in your role is X, Y and Z. Can you commit to that?.
    – Lilienthal
    Jun 23, 2016 at 8:58
  • Perhaps you can ease your conscience by easing the transition to another employer by using an out-placement consultant.
    – oɔɯǝɹ
    Jul 15, 2016 at 11:50
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    @Lilienthal I would elaborate further with that conversation and add in, "... currently you are underperforming and in jeopardy of losing your job unless you commit to X, Y, and Z." If that isn't crystal clear, nothing will be and you can safely let him go.
    – Dan
    Apr 19, 2019 at 12:23

15 Answers 15


To summarise the problem (please correct me if this isn't quite right):

  • Your colleague can do the easy work, and you have 3-4 months of easy work stacked up
  • You believe they lack the fundamental aptitudes to step up to the harder work after that glut of easy work dries up
  • You want to be honest with them, and avoid the situation of relying on someone not up to the challenge when the easy work is replaced by harder work
  • You want to avoid demotivating them, or losing their help ploughing through this glut of easy work

If so, you can get all these things, by agreeing measurable performance goals. A "Performance improvement plan" is one way to do this, here's a clearly written overview.

Although a PIP is often presented as a tool to assist you in your performance, you should be under no illusions about its secondary purpose. If you don't improve, it will give your employer evidence that they have followed correct procedure, otherwise they may be at risk of a claim for unfair dismissal.

Tell them honestly that you're concerned at how they struggle with the harder work, and that you'll only keep them on after X date if they can demonstrate that they can do X, Y and Z without needing help. Then stick to it.

Have some aptitude test or objective assessment planned, that covers the important aptitudes and is right and fair for their level, that a competent person at their job's level should pass, and where if they did surprise you and pass you'd happily admit you were wrong and keep them on. Don't be tempted to "set them up to fail" by setting the level unfairly high - not only is that unfair and not useful, it can be challenged and will reflect badly on you.

Test them when you said you would, and if - as you expect - they haven't raised their game, let them go like you said you would. If they surprise you and demonstrate they can work at this level, work with them to identify what was holding them back before.

You get the 3-4 months of slog work you need, they only stay on if they somehow dramatically improve, AND you've been completely honest and fair.

Very important: Be open to the possibility that you might have underestimated them, and that, with a little support and clear targets to aim for, they might surprise you and pass.

While it probably looks unlikely that they would suddenly discover aptitudes they appear to lack, a third benefit of this approach is that, if you did underestimate them, they can step up and prove themselves.

When you're an experienced expert on something, it's easy to misjudge where the stumbling blocks are for someone less experienced - especially if you usually work alone, and especially if the junior person's daily work mostly doesn't involve exercising higher level skills.

I've done it myself, dropping junior colleagues in a deep end that I thought was not much deeper than their regular work. Usually because either:

  • Both tasks seem easy to me, because they're both part of my routine work; but I've been doing the new task routinely for so long, I'd forgotten how difficult it was when I first learned to do it
  • Or, because the new task requires some specific ability that I take for granted, and I hadn't realised that their routine work doesn't involve any opportunity to develop this

It might help to think from the perspective of someone less experienced, by imagining the scenario in a skill set you're less familiar with.

For example, imagine you're the new assistant mechanic at a garage, bought in to help the head mechanic deal with a high volume of routine tasks like changing wheels and changing oil. Every few days, you're asked to help with something challenging. Last Tuesday, you were helping find the fault in a Toyota engine, and the head mechanic went through the steps very thoroughly with you. You paid attention, and are eager to learn, but it's a lot to take in.

Today, you're tasked with finding the fault in a Nissan engine. The head mechanic leaves you to it, because, from their perspective, the principles are the same as the thing they showed you in detail last week.

However, you're struggling. You get so few opportunities to do work like this in between the high volume of mundane work. You're thinking through the steps the head did on the Toyota engine, trying to figure out how they apply to this different engine, but it's hard for you to judge which differences between the engines are ignorable or cosmetic, and which are important.

You're struggling to switch modes, you feel under pressure, you don't remember the details, and you're not confident you're going about it the right way. The head mechanic is shaking their head in despair because you got in a muddle and missed something that is so basic, it's a mechanic's equivalent of FizzBuzz.

Is our assistant mechanic fundamentally incapable of thinking like a mechanic? Or has our head mechanic underestimated how difficult it is to switch on little-used higher level thinking skills on demand after a lot of drudge work, and forgotten that, while it feels easy for them to look at a Nissan engine and just see seemingly obvious differences and equivalencies to a Toyota one, this actually draws on years or decades of experience?

Give the assistant formal goals and a chance to prove themselves, and you can find out for sure if they're up to it.

Note: this answer is based on a European-style working environment (question is tagged Europe) where being let go for sub-par performance usually requires observing a notice period and some sort of warning or due process, and is very different to being fired with immediate effect ("summary dismissal"), which requires evidence of gross misconduct. Someone in something like a PIP still has an incentive to fulfil their duties in the remaining months even if they feel like they are failing to meet the standard, to avoid the black mark of being fired outright.

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    The OP clearly states that he has already made up his mind. Setting up unreachable goals for the employee is cruel and unnecessary. Jun 23, 2016 at 8:50
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    Only if the goals are unreachable. This is why I said the goals should be "right for their level, where if they did surprise you and pass you'd happily admit you were wrong and keep them on" - and why I added 5 paragraphs on why it's important for a senior to be open to the possibility that they misjudged someone's potential and welcome objective evidence. Of course if there's another reason why the asker is set against this person (e.g. personality clash), that's a different matter... but we can only go on what we're told! Jun 23, 2016 at 8:59
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    Regarding the note at the end. PIPs are almost universal in the mid-Atlantic area of the United States, if not nationwide. Even in states that allow "at-will" employment (legally no cause must be given for termination), there are laws prohibiting wrongful termination, so having documented reasonable cause for termination is favored by a majority of employers. Jun 23, 2016 at 17:45
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    @ToddWilcox Regarding your comment on at-will employment, I believe at-will employment is the standard. In fact, the only exception seems to be Montana: "Employment relationships are presumed to be 'at-will' in all U.S. states except Montana."
    – Dennis
    Jun 26, 2016 at 19:17
  • In Europe, laying off people is trivial, but firing one is very tightly regulated. You cannot fire someone without first giving them a formal warning (often a written one), after which a PIP is required. Then you can fire them for lack of skill. But you should think how did they pass the interview and the initial trial period of 4-6 months. If an employee passes it, he has the legal upper hand against firing, because the trial period is the official time when you evaluate their competence. Apr 19, 2019 at 11:19

Sounds like you've already put him on an informal PIP, and arrived at the conclusion that he's not measuring up. Attempting to institute a formal PIP now seems kind of cruel.

Getting fired is not the end of the world -- sometimes it's the wake-up call one needs. What is more detrimental to your subordinate is keeping him in a role where he's not successful.

You need to find someone who can truly help you, and he needs to find a position where he can learn, grow, and succeed.

It's common practice in the US to give someone as little notice as possible of firing -- usually happens on a Friday afternoon and you're escorted to the door (happened to me twice).

If you give a person a termination notice and allow that person to remain physically in the workplace, that is a risk to your business and fellow employees.

I'm speaking from a US employment perspective, but I would think the same risk holds true even if immediate removal from the workplace is not a common practice everywhere, and the propensity for workplace violence/sabotage in Europe is considerably less than in the US.

The clear additional risk, as you mention, is that giving advance notice puts your project at risk. Again, this may be a US point of view, but if I were told I would not be employed at the end of the project, I would look for a new job immediately to safeguard my future.

Perhaps something like this guide might help?

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    I agree with this - I don't know why you would ever let someone know you're letting them go and then let them continue to work there, much less have access to your code base. If you're saying you need to give them 2 weeks by law where you are, then give them 2 weeks pay whilst ushering them out the door. Jun 22, 2016 at 15:21
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    Because some people are professional about it? I've given my notice, and been given notice. And I've pretty much always worked it until the end. (Except one place - they gave me 3 months notice, + 3 months 'garden leave').
    – Sobrique
    Jun 22, 2016 at 16:02
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    The question is tagged europe, but this answer applies to the USA. Therefore, it does not answer the question.
    – gerrit
    Jun 23, 2016 at 10:48
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    @EthanTheBrave, Regarding code base, I think it's funny StackExchange answers often assume a project is related to programming when that hasn't been specified. Sort of an unintended nod to our roots in StackOverflow? Jun 23, 2016 at 13:19
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    @gerrit - If in Europe work is often handled in a humane and reasonable way, then why should it be different in the USA? Are people in the USA so enraged that they have to deal with work as a trench war, as this answer proposes? I don't think so. Jun 26, 2016 at 21:03

I don't know law in your country, so I can't fully answer the direct question of 'when' he should be informed. But, 'how' is directly related in the implication of 'when', and I might be able to help with the "weigh[t] on [your] conscience"

It isn't your company, so you may not have as much say in the duration of notice or the size of the severance. If you do, remember that you (if not you, surely one of your friends or family members) were once unsure of your future profession and tried things that didn't fit, even if it was simply taking on extra responsibilities that ended up not working out well. High motivation, and frankly even just showing up to do difficult or monotonous things, are things that should be rewarded by society, and coveted in networking relationships. Perhaps he is a bad programmer, but will be a great executive some day? (Maybe not, but you get the idea)

As such, perhaps a related question could be asked: what may I give him, so that losing his job is as non-traumatic as possible? Sure, money, time, they help, but giving him money and time loses you or your company money and time. That is true regardless of the reason of letting someone go, be it insubordination or retirement benefits. Instead, perhaps you could think about it like this: what exactly is he out, when you let him go? Some say a paycheck, perhaps self-esteem, certain dreams may be dashed... but really, he is out a job. So, help him get another one. Seriously.

Now, I don't mean hand out his resume or go to interviews for him. You should not tell contacts at other companies that he is a great programmer. That is absurd. But, since you are agonizing about this enough to put it on the internet for millions (maybe?) to see, both writing a long question and responding in comments, it is easy to see that this really is weighing on your conscience. Take that energy, and make it positive. Document his positive qualities. Think about what he is good at. Decide now where the line is of what kind of recommendations you can give. And then give that. Give him that recommendation, in writing, when you let him go. It will still sting for him, it does for all of us, but afterward, he can feel like he can contact you, and use you as a verbal reference as well.

Worried about being a negative reference? Remember you can tell his future potential employers things like "I can't say how he will do with the type of technology you are working with", "I can't go into the specifics of activities and technologies he worked with that my employer feels shouldn't be shared with industry competitors", "but, I can tell you that, watching how he approached new and challenging tasks, attacking technologies that he didn't understand, he was always energetic and positive. It left quite an impression", and "I was sad to see him go."

Don't lie. Never lie, your integrity is worth more than his or your salary. But, every person has good qualities, and his good qualities are enough to give you pause in this situation. Put your word behind him as he leaves, and at least one of you will be better off for it.

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    +1 for the recommendation. It speaks highly of you, and your employee will see you as a human being instead of a heartless person who fires people to meet the company goals. Jun 27, 2016 at 16:33

If you're convinced he can't improve, the solution is to fire him as soon as possible, and pay him out the notice period he's legally owed. Same as any employee. This is standard practice for employee terminations just about everywhere, and for very good reasons.

In this case, that sounds like you'd fire him the day the project ends (or maybe the day after), have him escorted off the premises and he'd get two weeks of severance pay for time he's not working.

Yes, it sucks, especially with a well-meaning under-performer, but you're not being paid by your employer to be his friend or his life coach or his mother; you're being paid to act in your employer's best interests. That usually involves things you'd rather not do (such as this), which is why you get paid to do it. You can soothe your conscience by reminding yourself that you're doing the right thing, and you're not doing anyone any favors by continuing to carry an incompetent subordinate. Not yourself, your team or your company, and not even him, strange as that may sound. Long-term, it's bad for someone to be in a job they're not competent at, and it's better to find out early in your career than after years of futile struggling.

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    Work does require trust in both directions. If the company doesn't trust the employee that's not good, but it can happen. If the company doesn't tell the employee what their plan for him is, the employee cannot trust the company. Point is: Doing only what's 'best' for the company can undermine an important factor in employees' relation to their job. Be aware that colleagues will probably notice how the company treats some people and may or may not agree with it.
    – JimmyB
    Jun 23, 2016 at 9:32
  • @JimmyB People also don't like working with incompetent co-workers, and it's just moronic to tell someone that you're going to fire them in 3 or 4 months. If the other employees don't understand that, or have a problem with it, there's a much bigger problem than one incompetent employee who needs to go. Jun 23, 2016 at 13:58
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    It really depends on the impression people have about that co-worker. If they already noticed issues with that employee, it's ok. But if they did not expect the "sudden" action they may become irritated. - Besides, I wouldn't consider being honest with your employees "moronic"; I'd call it "fair".
    – JimmyB
    Jun 23, 2016 at 14:47

If someone is bad enough you want to fire them then I'm at a loss as to why you'd want to keep them around for another 3 or 4 months. Either you need to let this person go now and find a replacement or you need to sit down with them and put an improvement plan in place. Doing anything else shows a lack of leadership ability.

Also, imho, when you are firing someone you walk them out the same day that you have that conversation. You can't always tell what people will do when they are presented with such a stressful thing as losing their job. The possibilities range from total sabotage to simply just sitting at their desk doing nothing because there is zero motivation to do a good job at that point.

So, if this person is good enough to keep for several more months then there has to be some redeeming qualities you can work with while helping them improve. Bear in mind that guiding people to improve isn't an easy task and will require quite a bit of effort on your part. That said, turning an employee around can be a very satisfying experience for both of you.

However if you truly feel that they can't be redeemed then you have to let them go now. Doing anything else is a disservice to your company, your team and even to them as they believe they are working just fine. As a boss I'd see it as a waste of time/money keeping someone around for months after a decision was made - which reflects badly on you. As a team member I'd wonder why you keep incompetent people around while probably asking me to help clean up their mess - which also reflects badly on you.

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    I specified Europe for a reason: employment is not at-will here, and it's extremely unusual to walk someone out instantly, except if they were openly insubordinate. I mentioned the reason behind those 3 to 4 months: it is a very simple but time-consuming task he can do relatively OK (even if not perfectly), but is unlike any other things we would need him for.
    – Val
    Jun 22, 2016 at 15:02
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    @val: then speak with your manager about how to remove this person as quickly as possible from your team and the company. Consistently bad producers are seriously negative motivators to the other team members.
    – NotMe
    Jun 22, 2016 at 15:05
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    @Val I've worked over in Europe in IT, and seen people walked out the door immediately after being fired. The only differences I noticed between the US and Europe was in what constitutes a terminable offense, and how much severance pay people got. (I was honestly a little jealous... wish I could get fired in Europe... I could use a few months of paid vacation.) I don't know if it's different in other industries, but in IT, terminations seem to be the same - you're out the door right after you're fired/laid-off, and your severance payment is on its way. Jun 22, 2016 at 15:18
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    @Val, even if you are legally constrained to keep him for two weeks after firing, check with HR on what to do with him during the notice period. There is no way I would let anyone who was fired still have access to my network, database or application code. There is too much damage such a person could do. Even people who are usually good guys can turn really ugly when they get fired.
    – HLGEM
    Jun 22, 2016 at 15:35
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    Keeping people on the payroll for a while may be required under employment law.. Letting them onto your site, never mind letting them have any access to work products or tools, is not. You can still walk someone out the door on the spot, you may just have to put them on paid leave.
    – keshlam
    Jun 22, 2016 at 15:43

The question contradicts itself. You claim the developer is useless, yet you also claim the developer is adequate for the project.

If you are certain that he's useless, he's absolutely not adequate for the project, and you let go of him now, instead of paying him money to screw up the project.

If you are certain that he's adequate for the project, he's absolutely not useless, and you need to figure out why you're thinking he's useless.

Edit: To clearly answer the question "Firing an incompetent subordinate in relatively far in the future: when to tell him?" - you don't ever fire an incompetent subordinate far in the future, you fire them in the now.

  • And there's a huge difference between incompetent, and competent at <insert task here>. For instance, someone could be competent at answering phones and keeping other annoying people from eating up your time, but incompetent at actually doing the work you hired them for. Jun 24, 2016 at 18:29
  • @WayneWerner True, but I've never seen people being incompetent at very simple software programming (can't do FizzBuzz) while also being competent at simple software programming (data gathering, a simplistic gui, and finding the right functions). Usually competence diminishes as tasks become more difficult.
    – Peter
    Jun 26, 2016 at 20:28
  • I thought he had said upper level management wouldn't let him be fired until the end of the current project or what not...
    – rogerdpack
    Jun 27, 2016 at 3:13

Are you his manager/supervisor? If not you shouldn't be having this discussion with him; his manager should.

I would recommend that the manager tell him now that his job is at risk unless he improves, and give him a specific list of things he needs to accomplish in some reasonable amount of time to prevent that; in some companies this is known as a performance improvement plan.

If he can start demonstrating the skills you hired him for, and continues to demonstrate them, great. If not, he's had reasonable opportunity to start making other plans.

(Personally I strongly dislike "stress PIPs", where the poor fellow is deliberately pushed to the limit; the goal should be to see him perform the level you are paying him for, or maybe just a bit above to partly make up for time he wasted.)


Ethically, if your decision really is final, I can't see any way of letting him think he still has the position he was hired for through the end of the project and then firing him for underperformance, but you do have options.

You've said

I'm certain that there is not another place at the company for him.


He...has been helpful in taking simple tasks off my plate


...once the project is finished, he will be laid off. I expect this to take another few months.

and that him leaving now, before the end of the project, "would be a setback."

and lastly, you've said

My decision is final...

So apparently, you have a temporary position for a very junior developer / admin staff person to keep small tasks off your plate during this project which winds up in a few months, and he is currently successfully filling that position. He's not successfully filling the position he was hired for, and you're certain he never will.

So we need to balance

  • Your responsibilities to the company
  • Your responsibilities to your employee as his manager

I had to deal with something very similar many years ago as head of department. Based on that experience, I see these options in your situation:

1. A new position

If (note that this is a tall order to fill)

  • other than underperforming, he's a very positive member of staff (enthusiastic, good for the team, just generally a good guy to have around)
  • there is a reasonable chance that the very junior-level work he's successfully doing now may continue past the end of the project after all
  • you'd be willing to keep him on at his current pay grade to do that work
  • your assessment of his character is that he will continue to be a positive, enthusiastic employee and not do something malicious

then tell him now that (regretfully) you've determined he isn't be suitable to the position you hired him for, but that he's making a useful contribution and you appreciate his enthusiasm and positive influence on the team, and that you'd like to keep him on in a new, more junior position. Describe his new responsibilities to him and be certain that he understands that his new position doesn't include the training and career track his old one did. Then ask him if he wants to stay on in that capacity. (You'll obviously follow this up in writing.) If there's still a business case for it, advertise and hire someone to fill the position he no longer fills.

At the end of the project, hopefully the reasonable chance of the work continuing comes up trumps and you can keep him in his junior-level job. And maybe he surprises you, maybe he has the capacity to improve after all and being demoted is the wake-up call he needs.

He may find a new job in the meantime and leave; that would be a setback for your project, which is unfortunate, but there's always that risk anyway.

2. Fire him now, hire a temp

If you couldn't say yes to all of the bullet points at the beginning of #1 above, fire him now and hire a temp to do the work he's currently doing, presumably at a lower pay rate. If there's still a business case for it, advertise and hire someone to fill the position he was originally meant to have.

This will cause disruption, but it's honest and overall good for the business. Perhaps it turns out that the temp shows potential and you keep him/her on past the end of the project. If you don't immediately fill the position your current person can't fulfill, it may turn out that the temp can; if not, he/she is a temp and knew that from the outset, so it's fine that the position ends with the project ends.

I should note that "fire him now" may well be a multi-month process depending on where you are in Europe, what documentation and communications with him you've already amassed, etc. Your company's lawyers are obviously the ones to advise on that, but unlike the U.S., you may well not be able to just walk him to the door and pay him his notice period.

3. Maybe your decision isn't final

I know you've said your decision is final, but there are two reasons this option may be the way to go:

  • It sounds like you've done only an informal performance improvement process with him. Depending on where you are in Europe and the advice of your HR department and/or company lawyers, you may not be able to fire him without first going through a formal performance improvement process.

  • Perhaps on reflection you're not 100% sure he's not going to improve. Maybe he does have the capacity to improve and a stark message about his future at the company will be the wakeup call he needs.

So if either of those is the case:

Sit the employee down and say that you like his enthusiasm, but (in no uncertain terms) it isn't currently translating into improvement. Work with him to try to determine why that is. Does he not realize there's a problem? Is it a lack of education? Start a formal, documented performance improvement plan with him, with specific goals for improvement. If he still doesn't improve after several months, go with one of the options above.

But if you think that he knows there's a real problem, and is actively trying to improve, and just isn't getting anywhere, then this isn't going to do him or you any good.

And obviously, don't do this just to keep him around through the end of the project. If you do it, make it real.

Years ago as head of department I had a very similar problem: We'd hired someone on the basis of his being a mid-range developer, definitely not a junior but not quite a senior either. After three months he still wasn't performing at the expected level and we had informal conversations about that. At six months we had more conversations, and at nine months he was still struggling. So we started with option 3 above. Several months later that still wasn't working, so we were left with options 1 and 2.

We went with option 1, because other than underperforming in his original position, he was a great asset to the company: Very well-liked, enthusiastic, and always doing things to make the company a better and happier place — spearheading recycling drives, organizing employee activities, etc. Just a positive person to have around in a bunch of ways. We were certain he wouldn't do anything to sabotage the company and would do his best in his new position. And we could identify junior tasks we thought were in his wheelhouse that would be useful to the company.

He accepted the new junior position and went on to do an adequate job in it. We wouldn't have paid that new position as much as we were paying him, but we were willing to eat the difference for this particular person. Having him doing junior tasks kept those off other developers' plates. If he hadn't been able to do an adequate job in the junior position, we would have fired him, but he was so we didn't. This was successful for two years until we had an unrelated round of layoffs in which his position (and several others) had to be terminated.

From a hard business perspective we might have been better off letting him go and hiring a junior at a junior's salary, not really because of the difference in pay (firing people is expensive, and we weren't paying him that much) but primarily because a junior might have the potential to grow and contribute more over time. I don't regret it and I know the CEO didn't either, but I do accept it was an unusual case. With most other staff I've had, I'd've gone with option 2 if option 3 didn't work.

  • While I agree that the under performing employee would be a better fit for a more junior position, it seems very dangerous to demote someone and cut their pay in that way. It most likely would lead to a great deal of resentment, which is exactly why you don't let someone in the doors to their old company after they have been fired. Also, is it legally defensible to change their position involuntarily like that?
    – kleineg
    Jun 24, 2016 at 18:56
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    @kleineg: I said nothing about cutting their pay. In fact, I was quite clear about not doing so: "* you'd be willing to keep him on at his current pay grade to do that work" and "We wouldn't have paid that new position as much as we were paying him, but we were willing to eat the difference for this particular person." How do you read that as cutting their pay? sigh Jun 24, 2016 at 21:53
  • @kleineg: Re changing position: Again, read what I actually wrote. The person is not able to do the job they're in. As an alternative to firing them, we offer them a different position. "Then ask him if he wants to stay on in that capacity." and "He accepted the new junior position" Jun 24, 2016 at 21:58

If you intend to fire him when the project ends (which it sounds like is the case,) I'd recommend not telling him until his last day.

While your concern for his ability to find another job is noble, you can solve this problem by simply giving him severance pay equivalent to enough time to find one. 2 weeks may be the legal minimum, but, if your company allows, you could give more in order to make it easier for him to have time to find another position (and, from the sound of his performance, perhaps another field entirely.)

Giving severance pay allows him to get by until he can find a new job, while not running the risks of having someone whose has already been given termination notice access to your network and code base (or even your physical site.) Additionally, you won't have him sitting around at the office looking at job postings for a few months instead of finishing the current project. Removing these problems while still allowing the person to get by until they can find a new job is exactly why severance pay exists.


Since you're at a larger company, I assume you've already spoken with your management and HR about this and have their full support.

When you let this person go, there will be a disruption to your work. You'll have to go through all the formal steps of letting that person go, and you'll have to deal with the loss of productivity when they're gone. It takes a long time and is more work than many might suppose.

Having said that, I'd let them go as soon as possible. You've already given the employee feedback and opportunity to improve, and you've already made up your mind.

For all you know, in 3 or 4 months a new project may come up that will make you so busy you don't get around to letting this person go for a very long time (I've seen it happen).


This is something you need to discuss with your company HR department. They are going to know the implications of what you do concerning his contract, they will make sure you follow the correct legal process in your country and they will help you through the process. It is likely that they have a policy of what to tell the person when. If you do not go through HR and tell the person prematurely, you could end up with legal issues involved in firing him. There may be procedures in place for performance improvement like PIPs that you must go through before letting someone go for cause. It is critical that the first place you go when considering firing anyone ever is the HR department. No one here can know what exact procedures your company has set in place.


You say that the problematic employee was hired "almost a year ago", and you want to fire him in a couple of months when the project ends. My advice would be to check if the legal notice period changes after 1-year anniversary: it may be two weeks now but become 1 month soon. In that case, it might be beneficial to fire him immediately. It doesn't sound like he's getting much done anyway.

Also remember that legal notice period doesn't necessarily mean you cannot fire a guy immediately. Most of the times it simply means that when this period is respected, there is no severance pay due. It may be perfectly reasonable to fire immediately and pay the severance, especially if you suspect that the guy could stop being productive once you announce him he's being fired.


C'mon, maybe another department can use him?

Maybe the company has training resources or mentoring resources that can get through to him when you've been unable to?

I strongly encourage you to discuss the matter privately, first with your immediate manager, then with HR, and then in confidence with a selection of your peers.

Soberly consider the old saw that says, "when you point your finger at someone, four fingers are pointing back at you." Is there nothing you could do to help this enthusiastic and apparently hard-working individual achieve more success?

"Maybe you're just too close to it." Maybe you don't actually see things quite so eye-to-eye with his perspectives on the same situation. Maybe one of your peers, maybe even within another department, has some perspective that might prove useful.

It also seems unnecessarily drastic that you would actually f-i-r-e the guy who worked alongside you so very long on this project. Maybe you'll never use him again on any future project, but is there no one else who might? I simply don't think that you have yet exhausted all the possibilities here. Doesn't someone who never quite lived up to your expectations, but who tried like hell to do so and did it with "enthusiasm," deserve a little ...

... mercy?


Walk that person out the door today.

Incompetent coder could have something that functions but leaves a legacy of mess for people in the future.

Don't try to keep them until X month. First word spreads at companies. Good chance he will find out ahead of time. Even worse than that are coworkers finding out and then everyone is like "Shit am I on the X list too?" So then you have good workers looking elsewhere. Never keep people lingering you are about to fire. Other answers mention other issues - I mention the main one.

Your employees should realize:

  • I do a bad job = don't work here
  • I do a good job = work here

By leading a bad worker on they have no idea what to think.

  • 4
    I had pretty bad impostor syndrome when i entered the workforce. Every single meeting with my boss I was expecting him to fire me. Until one day i couldnt take it anymore and I literally asked him "am I doing okay?" It took three years of working there to realise what you've mentioned here.
    – user5621
    Jun 22, 2016 at 19:07

Given that the relevant law in your jurisdiction allows and such a practice is the "Norm" of your workplace, an involuntarily terminated employee

Should be escorted off company property as soon as possible, ideally immediately after notice, and conversation with HR

To borrow a phrase from @ Mcknz, this person is a HUGE risk to your company. Ask yourself the following questions,

  1. What happens if this employee decides to steal / sabotage your company data as an act of retaliation?

  2. What happens if he ships PII information such as SSN and names of customers offsite?

If your company is using DLP the second point above is somewhat mitigated, but preventative policies to prevent such a situation is much better

  • 9
    The question has the Europe tag, and I can't think of any country in Europe where such behaviour is acceptable. There are exceptions in specific jobs, e.g. recruiters and traders, but in these industries that's company policy and certainly not up to the OP to decide. Also, Europe doesn't suffer the SSN problem.
    – Peter
    Jun 23, 2016 at 10:39
  • 1
    What is PII? What is DLP? Jun 26, 2016 at 23:01
  • 1
    @Peter - Why "Europe doesn't suffer the SSN problem"? Jun 26, 2016 at 23:01
  • @Nicholas PII stands for personally identifiable information - SSN, date of birth in combination with other personal information. DLP is Data loss prevention software
    – Anthony
    Jun 26, 2016 at 23:19
  • @NicolasBarbulesco Unique identifiers for people exist, but they don't allow anyone to potentially take over identities like an SSN does. For that you need the passport, which can declared invalid if lost or stolen.
    – Peter
    Jun 27, 2016 at 11:39

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