Why You Shouldn’t Just Fire All Your Employees


Overview of Courtney Berg’s webinar, “Can’t I Just Fire Them”  

As a small business owner, you know how expensive employee turnover can be. Factor in the cost of marketing open positions along with your time spent creating job descriptions, recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding new employees, etc. and you quickly see the price rising. Indeed estimates the cost to employers to be about 33% of the employee’s annual salary. But if employee performance issues are not dealt with, they can become all-consuming for you and for the rest of your employees as well. So, is it best to fire problematic employees or try to work though the issues? Keep reading for takeaways from Courtney Berg’s recent webinar, “Can’t I Just Fire Them”

Where is the issue coming from?

The first thing Courtney advises you focus on is determining the source of the employee’s poor performance. She recommends you think back on the expectations you set for the employee when they were hired and assess if those expectations are not being met due to a gap in the employee’s knowledge, skills, or abilities (KSA’s).

Knowledge is what the employee knows; it is the education or training they have a mental understanding of. Skills are what the employee can do; they are the actions the employee needs to perform to get the job done. Abilities are the makeup of the employee at their core; they are the natural characteristics of the employee as a person. While knowledge and skills can be taught, abilities are much more difficult to change.  

Once you have discerned where the issue is coming from (knowledge, skills, or abilities) you need to decide if the employee’s gap in KSAs is so large that it would be more effective for your business to hire an employee who is better suited for the role or if you can work through the challenges with the employee to get them up to speed. 

Slide from Courtney Berg's PPT presentation, "Can't I Just Fire Them". 

Coaching or Disciplining?  

Once you have determined that you need to take some kind of action you have another decision to make – are you going to take a coaching approach or a disciplining approach? Courtney lays out a few steps that are characteristic of each.


  • Encourage the employee – Let the employee know you appreciate their work, that they are an important part of the team, and that you want them to succeed.
  • Invite self-appraisal – Ask for the employee’s input on changes that need to be made in order for them to succeed. Tip: While you are there to support the employee, make sure the ownership for the changed behavior is with the employee and not with you as the manager.
  • Explore the situation – Ask the employee questions to understand where they are coming from and what factors are at play.
  • Observe – Take notice of the employee’s verbal and nonverbal communication throughout the conversation.
  • Reflect – Clearly share what you are hearing from the employee and what your own perspective on the issue is. This is a time to brainstorm an action plan.
  • Summarize – Wrap up the conversation by restating what the action items are moving forward to address the issue.


Keep in mind that depending on the severity of the infraction you may not want to follow these steps in order. As the manager, the appropriate action is up to your discretion. 

  • Awareness counseling – Let the employee know you are aware of their behavior and check to see that everything is okay.
  • Verbal warning – Let the employee know that their behavior is an issue that will need to be addressed.
  • Written warning – The employee signs a document describing the warning for the specific behavior. 
  • Performance improvement plan – The employee signs a document agreeing to work towards the necessary changes. 
  • Suspension – Let the employee know they cannot come to work for a given amount of time.
  • Termination – Let the employee know you will not be continuing their employment and let them know about next steps (how they will receive their last paycheck, give them their Unemployment Insurance Notification, etc.)


Even though Colorado is an at-will state, you still need to document the employee’s behaviors as well as the actions you took to address the behavior. So, what should your documentation look like? Courtney advises you keep a folder with the following:

  • Summarize previous meetings
  • Summarize issues with performance
  • Summarize actions taken to assist the employee
  • Summarize employee performance after warnings given
  • Include as many details as possible
  • Make sure you are staying objective and not subjective
  • If terminating, provide the employee with their Unemployment Insurance Notification

Where to go from here

If you have more questions about managing employee performance you can schedule a free, remote, one-on-one consulting appointment with Courtney Berg, owner of CourtSide Consulting and SBDC HR Specialist, here. You can also view the full webinar, “Can’t I Just Fire Them?” in the SBDC Video Library here or directly through the SBDC YouTube channel here.


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