As a young first time recruitment manager a very long time ago, my boss called me one day and told me that I had to fire someone in my team. It turned out that the new recruitment consultant Mark, had lied on his application form by saying ‘No’ to the question, ‘Do you have a criminal record not considered spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974?’.
I asked my boss, a short hard-nut recruiter from Northern Ireland what the company procedure was and how I should go about it. His response was, “Just [email protected]*&ing fire him!” The implication in his tone and volume was that unless I did as I was told and very quickly, I would soon personally learn what the procedure was. Just before my hard-nut recruitment boss slammed the phone down on me, I foolishly asked him what the reference check had found on Mark. “He’s on a suspended sentence for GBH” was his response. Lovely! GBH! Grievous Bodily Harm! I grew up in a pretty tough neighbourhood in Brixton, South London but I must admit to a little bit of what Sir Alex Fergusson and Sir Alan Sugar call, ‘Squeaky bum time’ at the prospect of having to fire this bloke.
Mark was actually an ex-chef before he became a recruitment consultant. When I think back now I can’t imagine a more volatile cocktail of circumstance (mad chef/sharp knives/GBH/young manager/no back up). I looked around my team of recruiters to see if I could rely on anyone there to back me up if it all went horribly wrong and I ended up with Sabatier 8 inch carbon steel as a hair accessory. Trust me; our recruitment consultants made Graham Norton look hard. My best bet was Trisha the recruitment team leader and she was 4ft 4 in heels with not much more authority in her voice than I had. Trisha agreed to call an ambulance/ the police and my mum if it all turned nasty.
We didn’t have a private office as such and so I took the executive decision to ‘conduct the exit interview’ in our kitchenette-come-stationery cupboard. We kept the cleaning materials in there also so I figured if there was any mess to clear up after, they would be handily nearby.
I hadn’t realised quite how small this area was until I asked Mark to join me in there. The request itself was greeted by Mark and the other recruiting staff with quizzical looks. My reassurance that I just wanted a quiet private word did nothing to reassure them.
Now at this stage I know all of you are probably expecting to hear a story of absolute carnage like something out of a Tarantino blood fest flick with two recruitment gladiators fighting it out with only one left standing. A fight club scenario where corporate recruiters go to war against each other like fighting pit bulls. Well it was nothing like that at all. I must admit I had expected a bit of a tear up myself before going in and was more worried about my new Dolce and Gabbana glasses being broken than thinking about what I was going to say to Mark ‘the Recruiter’ Mauler.
I locked the door behind me. I’m not sure what Mark thought was going to happen at this stage but I detected the tiniest look of fear from him as I did so.
I made what I now know to be a really stupid mistake when sacking anyone and that is to tell the person how bad you feel. No-one can feel as bad as the person being sacked does right at that moment, so just don’t do it.
For his part, Mark was an absolute gentleman recruiter. The moment he knew what I had called him to talk about he made my task as easy as possible. He admitted to lying on his application form about his previous criminal record. He explained it was an incident he experienced as a teenager growing up and though he deeply regretted it he found it difficult to put down on job applications because of previous discrimination he had encountered when being truthful. He understood that he was being fired for lying to our recruitment company and not for having a criminal record, shook my hand and thanked me for the sensitive way I had handled it and then asked if he could collect his belongings before leaving. I did get a last minute panic when he stopped at the door and turned around slowly and stared at me but then remembered that I had locked the door and he couldn’t get out.
Mark left our recruitment office peacefully later that day and we never heard from him again. I hope he’s doing well wherever he ended up and not thinking that he should have lamped me just for the hell of it.
Having to fire anyone is a bloody awful thing to have to do. I’ve yet to meet any manager that actually enjoys doing it (even my old boss used to bottle it and delegate this most horrible of tasks). I have had to dismiss more people since for a variety of reasons and I promise it never gets easy to do. I am not an employment law specialist (not that clever or well off) but working in recruitment and training for over 20 years has given me a unique insight into how people are fired really badly. Here are my top ten tips to make your experience just that little bit easier:
- No surprises – Ensure every recruiter knows what was expected from them from day one of joining you.
- Regular performance reviews – give annual performance appraisals so recruiters continue to know what’s expected from them.
- Know the legals – ignorance is no defence in an industrial tribunal. Know where you stand legally and understand your company’s policies and procedures. If in doubt consult a specialist. Getting it wrong will be costly.
- Take action ASAP – once you have specialist advice take the first step as soon as you have made the decision to proceed. Procrastination is the thief of time. Starting a disciplinary process early enables more opportunity for positive outcomes (i.e. turnaround, coaching out of disciplinary, mentoring by more senior recruitment consultant/manager, etc)
- Love paper – document everything. If it does go legal you will need to have notes of every conversation, phone call, meeting, email, letter, etc.
- Plan to replace ASAP – start the recruitment process for replacing the outgoing recruiter now.
- Get yourself prepared – prepare a short simple script by writing down the specific reason you are terminating this recruiters employment. Bring all previous documentation, agreements, contracts and job descriptions. Bring a buddy (preferably a HR or employment law specialist)