There must be something in the air. Three of my clients called me this week to talk about firing a subcontractor. One client asked me, “Can you please write an article about this so I know what to do?” And thus this article was born.
We hire people to help us grow and run our small business: assistants and virtual assistants, website designers and graphic artists, copywriters, coaches and consultants, tax accountants and bookkeepers. But what do you do when their work isn’t up to par or they are constantly missing their deadlines?
These issues can lead to other problems, so even if they seem small they can blow up on you in the future. Your reputation relies on the quality of the work you do and all the people who you hire need to have the same level of excellence. If you demand it of yourself, demand it of your subcontractors.
Terminating a subcontractor is never easy, but it helps to know why and how to do it. With this checklist, you should be able to get through it with grace and confidence.
Please note that firing an employee has some legal pieces to it, so check with your regional labor departments to find out the rules for your area. Let’s focus on firing subcontractors in this discussion:
Determine Why You Are Firing Them
There are many reasons to fire someone who works for you. It helps if you have clarity about why you are letting them go. Write a list of things that aren’t going well and be specific.
Here are some examples:
- They’re making too many mistakes.
- They do unethical things that will reflect poorly on your business.
- They don’t reply to your emails and phone calls in a timely manner.
- They don’t abide by the terms of a written contract or oral agreement.
- They overcharge you.
- They do things without your permission that have a strong negative impact on your business or reputation.
- They don’t get work done on time or ignore work they don’t want to do.
- They treat others poorly, including co-workers, colleagues and clients.
- They don’t have the skill to do the job, even though they told you they did.
If you have a written contract with the person, read it in advance and make sure you understand that terms of the agreement when it comes to ending the contract.
Protect Yourself First
Before you fire them, protect yourself by changing your passwords (and if necessary, credit card numbers), or any other personal information they have access to. This includes passwords to your hosting company, domain registrar, shopping cart, banking accounts, etc.
Make sure you have a copy of all paper documents and electronic files (such as website files, Quickbook files, Word documents, etc.) before you fire them – you may not get them afterward without a fight.
If the person has a key to your home or office, consider having your door locks re-keyed by a professional locksmith. While most people will respond with dignity, there may be some whose unhappiness spills into action. Forewarned is forearmed.
The Big Breakup
Plan a time to speak with your subcontractor when you won’t be disturbed. While uncomfortable, it is better to do this in person if at all possible. Otherwise, use the phone or video conferencing. Do not terminate someone via email or instant messenger.
Here are some pointers to consider:
- Be clear about exactly what’s wrong. Give examples.
- Identify the times you asked them to change their work or their behavior. Remind them that you’ve spoken to them previously about what was not working for you.
- Tell them how you expect things to be.
- Be clear and professional.
- Do not get sucked into their emotional reaction. Some people may cry, shout or give you the silent treatment. Some people don’t handle rejection well even though you’ve spoken to them before about being dissatisfied with their work. Allow them to have their reaction without you participating in their emotions.
- Don’t give in and re-hire them. Some people will beg — or worse threaten — to get their job back. Be firm and keep saying No.
After the Breakup
Now is the time to begin considering how you will replace the person you just fired.
First, write up a job description, listing all the tasks they did for you. Also write up a list of qualities you expect from the person: accuracy, timeliness, open/clear communication. Include in this list the skills they must possess in order to do the tasks and complete the projects.
Next, document your normal procedures so that the new person knows how things are done. This will reduce the amount of training time and get the new person up to speed quickly.
If you don’t think you have time to document all this, ask yourself: Do you really have time to constantly be fixing their mistakes?
In the future confront every task poorly done, every miscommunication, every job avoided, when it happens. Don’t procrastinate hoping they’ll fix it themselves. If you’re lucky, these immediate comments about their work will forestall having to fire them in the future. At the very least, they won’t be surprised when they are fired.
Finally, sit back and relax. You’ve done a good job in handling a tough situation and you need time to process your own thoughts before moving on with your day.