Can a boss fire an employee on the spot?

The game show The Weakest Link was a great show! I loved watching a team of contestants trying win within a time limit by completing a chain of correct answers. When the chain was broken with an incorrect answer, the team was prompted to vote to eliminate one of their teammates, the so-called “weakest link” in the chain. If only it were that easy in business! Although it’s rarely up for a group vote, the determination falls to the manager. In my experience, it always prompts the question, “Can a boss fire an employee on the spot?”

I know in my previous posts I’ve encouraged managers to get rid of the losers on the team but is it that easy? In reality, many managers do have the power to fire someone on the spot but experts say this behavior is rarely a good idea. So what do you do?

According to Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job,” employment in the US is typically at will, meaning the company can get rid of an employee at any time and an employee can leave at any time. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There are processes to be followed to ensure the employee is given every chance to succeed and keep the company out of the peril of litigation.

Start the conversation early-

Too many managers allow poor performance or bad behavior reach a nuclear level before documenting the coaching process. This makes termination for causes other than theft or violence drag on. The best advice is to encourage managers to document all coaching sessions and provide this documentation to the employee. Providing the coaching documentation not only informs the employee the conversation was document but also allows them the opportunity to respond and defend or explain their side of the story.

Be clear to be kind

This is one of my favorite quotes from author Brene Brown. She shares that too many times, we attempt to be kind and in our effort, are unclear about the expectations we have of our employees. This causes false security and if the employee is terminated, creates ill feelings. Clear conversation with employees helps them understand the expectations and allows for a valuable, two-way conversation regarding performance.

Don’t take the easy way and sugar-coat the message. Being clear about expectations is nothing to be ashamed of! You might be surprised how your employee responds.

Be consistent

Sometimes it’s easy to fall off the wagon of consistency. Managers will see a minor increase in performance and decide to forgo documenting further discussions. This is never a good idea. Even as progress is made, be sure to be consistent in documenting discussions to show the good and the bad, if you should ever find yourself in court.

So the short answer to, can a boss fire an employee on the spot is YES. HR professionals, like me, will typically urge you to reconsider though and follow a process to protect the employee as well as the company.

If this type of process makes you uncomfortable, try meeting with your HR partner to discuss your fears and what part of the process makes you uncomfortable.

For the NakedHR professionals out there, take the time to explain to your management team the perils of firing on the spot, not by hiding behind HR policy but by showing it is the fair thing to do to the employee and to the firm. If not, you might find yourself with a lot of unneeded work.

If you’d like to learn more about my book, click here to watch the summary video and order your copy on Lulu or Amazon!

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.