November and December are peak months for rationalizing short-term indulgences and ignoring the bigger picture to the detriment of our future selves. Unlike seasonal stress eating and overspending, however, firing an employee during “the most wonderful time of the year” is a decision the dedicated attorneys at Stanton Law are qualified to counsel against.
As a fundamental principle, employment law problems often arise from a failure to fire.
Many employers consider terminating an employee a loathsome task. And those looking for reasons why “now isn’t a good time” will always find one. Under normal circumstances, the longer you let a problem employee linger the more likely the problem will grow – employees get sick or injured, complain about harassment or discrimination, or otherwise become insulated from termination. Accordingly, we typically recommend cutting your losses as soon as possible.
There are practical reasons against firing someone in the last 4-6 weeks of the year.
On the flip side, some employers argue there is never a good time to fire an employee, so the holidays are as good a time as any. Managing a workforce is a human endeavor, and timing is or at least should be, a factor worth considering.
Being fired is a traumatic experience.
The holiday season usually entails a lot of upcoming expenses, family coming into town, parties with small talk about work, and, for the recently terminated, dismal prospects for landing a job before the new year.
It will increase your odds of being sued.
It’s a higher chance to sue your company for wrongful termination than an employee who was terminated while in the midst of buying Christmas presents and/or counting on their year-end bonus to pay off holiday expenditures. This is particularly true if their termination comes as a surprise.
Your remaining staff will bear the burden.
The departure of a co-worker during an already stressful time of year may place a significant and unanticipated burden on your remaining staff by potentially creating more stress, increasing work hours, and making the likelihood of achieving their own year-end goals seem less possible.
Word will get around.
How you treat someone on the way out the door can matter just as much as how you managed them while they worked there. No matter what type of agreement you have them sign, word will likely get back to your remaining employees. If the termination is unavoidable, take care of them. Influence the narrative by treating the terminated employee with dignity and compassion.
Other relationships will be impacted.
No matter how appropriate the firing is, or how generous the severance package, the end of year termination could have significant productivity and engagement impacts on the remaining staff. Even if, on a rational level, everyone understands and agrees with the decision, at the end of the day, employers will be viewed as cold-hearted for doing it during this time of the year.
It may not have any real impact on the bottom line.
If all these reasons aren’t enough, the most common rationalization – making the numbers look good at the end of the year – is often based on wishful thinking rather than accurate accounting. If you’ve put up with subpar employee for any period of time, is it really going to pose a problem to put up with them until January?
That said, there are times when firing employees during the holidays is unavoidable. No matter the time of year, terminating an employee over their sexual harassment (all too common at holiday parties), physical violence, or well-documented toxicity, or due to considerations regarding the company’s viability relative to its payroll obligations are all choices between the lesser of two evils and should not be avoided.
Even where an exception applies, however, you should still be prepared to grapple with the consequences outlined above. Going into an end-of-year termination with eyes wide open is certainly better than the alternative. If you’re considering taking some kind of adverse action with an employee between now and the end of the year, please consider talking through the situation with the experienced employment attorneys at Stanton Law before making any decisions.