I have an employee who has worked for me for just over six months. Yesterday, he made a huge mistake. It will cost the company thousands of dollars and the company can’t afford it. The employee had a major lapse in judgment. He has never done anything wrong before and I am pretty sure that he would never make the same mistake that he made yesterday. Still, this problem is so huge that I think that I have no choice but to fire the guy. Do you think firing someone for a single mistake is appropriate?
— Unsure Boss
I am having trouble understanding your conclusion that you have “no choice” but to fire an employee who has never been a problem before and has no likelihood of being a problem in the future. You always have choices. This sounds like a person you should want to salvage.
I would support firing this person in two situations. First, if whatever he did that you describe as a “huge mistake” was actually gross incompetence that’s likely to recur or an intentional act of spite or ill will – he’s history. Second, if the monetary loss coupled with the company’s financial position means that there has to be a lay off, this employee should be the first to go.
If anyone reading this wonders why I was not snarky enough today — lighten up. It’s the most wonderful time of the year and fa la la la and all.
— Evil Skippy
I suppose if someone did one really terrible thing, firing them would be a logical action. It would have to really be terrible, though. Other than that, it seems rather harsh to fire someone for a single mistake whether or not it is “legal” to do so. We all make mistakes. Some of them are doozies.
I speak from experience.
A while back, I wrote about the “second-worst” thing I ever did at work in “Worst Day on the Job Ever”. Here’s the worst thing. In the world of mistakes, it certainly would have to be classified under “huge.”
It was New Year’s Eve and I was 21 years old, working as a waiter at a fancy restaurant. Having to work that night was no fun, but the thought of generous tips eased the pain. I was eager to please and amaze. It looked like a couple sitting at one of my tables was on a Big Date. My suspicions were confirmed when the male half of the couple motioned to me as his date went to the ladies’ room.
“I’m going to propose during dessert,” he told me. “Can you make everything perfect?”
Could I ever! I went into full Super Waiter mode. I dazzled them with service (while giving them lots of privacy). I made the guy seem brilliant by complimenting all of his choices. In other words, I was a complete suck-up.
They ordered steaks that would be flambéed – by me – tableside. Blinded by enthusiasm, I decided that a mere shot glass would not be sufficient to hold the brandy that would fuel my flambé. I upgraded to a highball glass. I did not stop at pre-heating my flambé pan. I super-heated it. Sadly, science skills were not one of Super Waiter’s super powers. I did not expect the shooting ball of fire that erupted when so much brandy met flame. It also never occurred to me that I might be standing anywhere near one of the detectors that would set off the restaurant’s emergency fire response system – but I was.
The emergency response was ceiling sprinklers. Ceiling sprinklers loaded with the most foul, greasy water-like-substance with which I have ever been drenched. Keep in mind that this was on New Year’s Eve. Keep in mind that along with myself, many patrons and employees were drenched. Patrons in fancy New Year’s Eve outfits.
The only thing that kept me from being booted out to the unemployment line was the guy who was going to propose to his girlfriend. After the fireball, as the water started to spray and people started to scream, he dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. She accepted. They kissed. Everyone started to applaud. I was the only one who noticed the newly-engaged man kick the highball glass away.
I admit that I should have been fired. The restaurant paid for lots of dry cleaning, not to mention the cost of cleaning the restaurant itself. We also comped a lot of dinners. It was a very expensive lapse of judgment on my part.
Which brings me back to my point – it is not necessarily a good thing to fire someone for a single mistake, even a huge one. I went on to work at the restaurant for over a year and received the “Employee of the Month” award. I did a great job for them.
Unsure, you wrote that your employee has not been a problem in the past and you don’t think he would ever repeat the mistake. That sounds like someone who should have another chance.
Like I was.