How long should you wait to fire an employee who doesn't seem up to the job?

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You spent weeks searching for the right candidate for an open job at your company, and after numerous resume reviews, interviews, and negotiations, you finalized a job offer and got that new hire on board. But what if you realize early on that the candidate you thought was perfect for the role at hand isn't actually doing such a great job? Should you fire that person right away, or stick things out to avoid having to repeat the interview process all over again?

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Cut your losses or stick things out?

Most U.S. workers are employed on an at-will basis, which means that you, as an employer, have a right to terminate anyone at any time and for any reason, provided it's not discriminatory in nature. For the purpose of this discussion, we'll assume that your motivation for terminating someone is performance- or attitude-based only.

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Before making the decision as to whether you should fire your new hire, it helps to think about why he or she isn't meeting your expectations. Is the person just not as competent as you expected him or her to be? Or did he or she misrepresent skills that are essential to the job? Oddly enough, the latter might be an easier obstacle to overcome, especially with the right guidance. On the other hand, a general sense of incompetence may not resolve with training, so if that's what you're dealing with, you may be better off cutting that person loose and starting your search all over again.

Is there a specific period of time you should always wait before firing a new hire? Not really. It's more a matter of patience coupled with common sense. If you bring someone new on board and find yourself dissatisfied with his or her performance a few weeks in, you're generally better off giving that person some more time. There's a learning curve at any new job, and judging someone's capabilities when they haven't even worked a solid month could drive you to a bad decision. On the other hand, if you've had that person working for you for several months with no improvement, and you've actually made an effort to step in and help set him or her straight, then you shouldn't hesitate to find someone new.

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This leads to another important point. Before letting someone go right away who doesn't seem to be meeting expectations, sit down with that hire, review your pain points, and offer tips on how to improve. You might even map out a formal plan for that person to follow. Doing so will generally serve one of two purposes -- it'll either get the employee in question back on track, or it'll give you a degree of protection in case that person decides to come back and sue you for wrongful termination.

Of course, if you're dealing with an employee who winds up having a bad attitude and is disrespectful of others, then you should feel free to give that person the ax right away. After all, if he or she can't get it together to make a good first impression, then there's no sense in subjecting yourself or your employees to the torture of working with such a person.

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