To Fire Or Not To Fire

As always, I love it when people send in their questions. Here’s one from Amy about her nephew’s restaurant:

This weekend, right during the big-time rush, when my nephew needed everyone, his best waitress walked out. She thought a customer had cheated her. It left him short-handed, caused longer waits for tables and made everyone work like crazy to keep up. She came back the next day right before opening for her next shift and acted like nothing was wrong. He told her she wasn’t scheduled, since he wasn’t sure she would show up, and to go back home. They could discuss the issue after the weekend. His dilemma was: Does he get rid of his best help to prove to others that they can’t leave at a critical time or does he keep her since she’s so good? The waitress is a single mom supporting her family, which adds to the equation.


Many leaders have faced a situation like this with their best team member. We had a problem with a great salesperson who couldn’t show up on time. He would sometimes come in an hour-and-a-half late. The way we handled it was by erring on the side of grace. We gave that person a couple of opportunities to change the behavior. Each time he came in late, he was given a considerably sterner reprimand. When he couldn’t make it happen, we let him go.

While most leaders want to fire a person for a horrible decision-making process, we have to remember the team member is still human and makes mistakes. The most important thing is to treat people the way you would want to be treated. We’ve all made bad decisions, and there have been times when people showed us grace. Even though the waitress walked out and caused problems for the owner, staff and customers, it wasn’t a fatal error.

Therefore, I would give her one—just ONE—more chance with a serious discussion on how unacceptable her actions were. And if she makes a decision like that again, she will no longer be employed. Walking out in my book is considerably worse than not showing up on time, so I’m going to be a little harsher.

On top of this, I would go the extra mile and explain how her leaving affected the customers, the team and the restaurant as a whole. Don’t do it in a rip-her-head-off kind of way. It’s a teachable moment, so mentor her. You might be surprised that she really didn’t understand how bad her actions were. Or, she might be a selfish dork and you need to let her go. Either way, you’ll know at the end of that conversation.

In Hiring T.O. I talked about how it doesn’t matter how talented a person is if they affect your business negatively, as well as positively. Walking out didn’t just hurt a sale, it made all of the other team members look at the owner with one question in mind: What’s he gonna do about that? Not handling it properly will lead to a demoralized team. And a demoralized team will crash a business. No team member with an attitude is worth that.

Question: What would you have done in this situation?



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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

35 thoughts on “To Fire Or Not To Fire”

  1. Great post, Chris! One other thing is you have to let the rest of the team know you are giving grace…but only so far. Just like you talked about yesterday in “Mushroom Communication,” you don’t want your team thinking wondering if you are a “Spineless Leader” when she shows back up the next day like nothing happened. That way, they too understand how you as a leader want to help the team succeed.

  2. That can work great if the one who stormed out is well liked. It can have horrible consequences if that person wasn’t well liked. I guess I also fail to totally understand why she would storm out when it was a customer that shorted her rather than the employer. (Was she upset she may have had to make up the difference?)

    1. You are absolutely right about it having horrible consequences. I think this is where it’s the leaders responsibility to show the rest of his team two things: there is grace for non-fatal errors, and sanctioned incompetence will not be tolerated. Both a lack of grace and sanctioned incompetence demoralizes the rest of the team.

  3. I think Aaron and Chris are spot on. That’s exactly where my head went upon reading this. Having spent 8 years as a restaurant server, I saw this occur, and while I understood the person’s frustration, as a team member, I was bothered because it put the rest of us in a tight spot. Another thought I had was what else is going on in the person’s life. A person just doesn’t walk out after a single incident. There’s more to that story and it’s not pretty. This is one of the main reasons why I love the point about grace. There’s no such thing as checking your personal life at the work entrance.

  4. Since I’m not an employer, this can be applied to “life lessons” too! I have a handful of friends that mess up occasionally and I over and over again give them grace. But there comes a point where I have over-graced them and I have to make myself take a step back. When I reach the point of over-gracing, I know that I have done more than I would expect out of anyone. Thanks, Chris for a great LIFE lesson amidst the business lesson!

  5. Chris, I really enjoyed this post. When you use real life examples that are currently happening, I think it is a great learning tool for us all. I think of that verse, instruct that others may hear and fear (my own version). The things I would want to consider are, was this employee only thinking about themselves and how they had shortchanged and their anger got the best of them and they think walking out is okay? If that is their mode of operation, would they walk out on me if they thought the way I treated them was unfair or would they approach me and discuss it? If the employee had approached the employer and said, hey, I know it is a really busy spell and you need me, but I just had a situation that really has me upset…can I leave for 30minutes? What do you think this employer would have done? No doubt said, go, we got your back! The position the employer is in is a tricky one. Sending the employee home to think I think was good, however, not dealing with it promptly in the form of dialog between the two of them, I am not sure is helpful either. However, if he had of dealt with it right then, would he/she have been angry? I do realize an employer/employee relationship is not marriage, so walking out is an option, but I think there is a way to do it professionally and not childlike. I would question how good of an employee this person really is in light of this conduct. What an opportunity for the rest of the team to shine, not complain and show forth extra effort!

  6. I really like this blog and responses. I would like to add that if this person is well liked/appreciated by the rest of the staff and employer, maybe she should apologize to the staff for her behavior, If she let them know that she had other issues going on (not being specific as no one needs to know her personal business) and that she just couldn’t handle what happened without a major meltdown that could have really messed up the evening for the whole restaurant. She chose to get away from the situation, but should have taken a break with the good graces of the boss and staff, to get her act together. Sometimes saying you’re sorry for letting down your co-workers gains their respect and forgiveness.There is an apparent lack of communication between management and staff if she didn’t feel comfortable going to the boss to handle this. Sounds like a TQM meeting might be in order so everyone on board knows how to handle these situations a team.

    1. Great way to handle it Greg. As an employer, if you ask me ahead of time, you will always get a good response. In this case, had the server asked to leave for a bit to collect themselves they would have been better off. We always tell our employees, if you get up in the morning and need a couple more hours of sleep to come in at full speed, give us a call and go back to bed. (we start work pretty early.) This really helps have employees at the top of their game when they get here.

      1. Tom, what kind of business do you run? Most businesses couldn’t be that kind to let people sleep in. How do you determine that privilege is being abused? or do your employees have ‘quotas’ of work/projects that can be met at any time of day?

        1. I run a custom cabinet shop. Honestly, our employees have used this “perk” less than a dozen times in the past 5 years. Our projects have a due date, so as long as the project is done by that date, they can take off early for kid’s recitals, etc.. No one has ever abused the privilege. We have a turnover rate of about 1%.

  7. It’s important that we speak and confront the deviating employee and make him/ner understand our expectation. Many times, something unpleasant happens out of misunderstanding. Showing grace is one and confronting the deviance is another style. It agreeable that opportunities are given before axing the defaulter.

  8. I have been a server for 10 years and now I’m a restaurant manager. There have been times when I’ve been at the breaking point – but, I’m responsible and it was my job, so I’ve never walked out. As a manager, if someone walks out on me, that was their last chance. If they need the money so badly “she’s a single mom” – she should have put her kids first and sucked it up. As a restaurant employee, you know that some days you get 20% tips, some days, you get 10%. The problem with letting the “best server” come back after walking out, is now, as a boss, if the “worst server” does the same, you have to treat the situation the same – and let them back. Where, before this, it would have been the perfect ending to their employment. I don’t think the best server on your staff would walk out, and if they do, they are not your best server. To me, handling the most tables at a time doesn’t constitute the best, they may not be giving each table the correct experience; the best server is the one that leaves every guest smiling, full and coming back and requesting their service. Also, if there are personal issues that caused this action – I, as the manager, should have been made aware of it before her shift began. I could have made decisions on her section and the flow if I knew she was having a bad day. To me, there is no excuse for walking out and then asking for your job back. Respect me and I’ll respect you.

      1. You’re right-this is something I’m working on! I think this post just hit too close to my daily life – and I’ve learned that giving grace in this situation sadly, never works out. It’s a tough industry and its easy to be taken advantage of.

        1. So true. I started in it when I was 14. I think one of the biggest problems is there is such a lack of vision and REAL leadership in the restaurant industry as a whole. It seems like all you do is take crap from customers and get yelled at by “leadership”. I always think of how I would do it differently if I went back in. Don’t plan on it, but it’s a fun thought. 🙂 Thanks again Andrea for your great comments!

          1. As I think about this situation, where was the ‘front house’ manager or hostess when the patron walked out. We all like to say the client is right, but sometimes you have to put your foot down on these people. Your customers will understand if it’s handled properly. I had to throw someone out of my office a few weeks ago because his kids were bouncing off the walls tearing up my reception room. I told the kids to stop and calm down. They didn’t, so I asked who the parent was and everyone in the lobby pointed to this guy. I asked him to get his kids under control and he called me rude. Then he tried to threaten me with filing a complaint with the owner until he found out that was me. He continued to call me rude and that he was going to file a complaint. I told him he could leave with his kids immediately. The other clients sat there smiling after the brats were gone. You really don’t have to take ‘crap’ from the customers. Your other clients will appreciate it and what kind of customers will you have ? The nice ones you want who will refer other nice ones that you want. It really does work. More businesses need to take care of respectful customers and throw the bums out! Who needs them anyway? I’ve only had to do this twice in 9 years and was really happy after they were gone.

          2. I appreciate your leadership and fortitude to not accept this kind of conduct. Really do!!! I was the office manager who had to do as you did in this situation many times and unfortunately since not the owner the client (patient/parent of the patient) was never “fired” even if the owner asked me to handle the problem. These types of “bums” are not needed…and you are correct, you will attract like customers.

  9. Great post! As a leader I always try to error on the side of mercy as well. It has come back to bite me but I want to treat people like they would want to be treated. It’s also important that we don’t sanction disloyalty by letting people get by with stuff because the other people are watching how we respond to situations such as this. When we let our producers get by with stuff their peers get frustrated because it looks like favortism.

  10. I’ve fired two roofing companies because they never showed up to bid a job. ohh wait, that doesn’t count does it. I like how you suggested handling this situation with the server, could not agree more.

  11. Chris,I thought your opinion on this was spot on. If this wasn’t a chronic type of behavior then I think it is wise to give the girl another chance. There are always two sides to every story. Maybe taking the time to sit down with her, you would understand her side as well. Sometimes people act out of haste…wait, a lot of times people act out of haste! This could be a good learning chance for her. If she was the best employee, what did she do that was so good? I think the fact that she is a single mom should be left out of the equation. It should be about how the rest of her work ethics have been in the past.

  12. Chris – this is a great post. I have found in my own experience leading sales teams that sometimes the employee, especially your good ones, aren’t sure how to give feedback to you and will withhold it too long for various reasons – many times it’s because they don’t want to be viewed as holding a negative opinion about the job, task, or even the company. One thing we are never short of is employees who freely air their complaints, constructive or otherwise!

    While leaders need to be fully approachable, there are times where the employee may think they are protecting us, especially if they believe the situation may resolve itself within a short period of time. Handling these kinds of situations with grace may build a greater sense of comfort and trust both directly with the individual and indirectly with the rest of the team.

    The key is to be consistent though. You have to be willing to treat your middle and low performers the same way initially and then coach them through the situation based on their individual needs.

    Great discussion!

  13. She thought a customer cheated her, so she walked out, essentially taking it out on her employer and her fellow workers, not cool. She needs to understand that every action has a consequence, and in this case, the consequence would be staying home for a couple days, and loosing a little bit of income. If in her position, i would appreciate being given a second chance, so i agree with you about giving her some grace, but i would also use this opportunity to explain to the team about behavior that cannot be tolerated.

  14. I agree with you, Chris – a sit down to discuss her actions – and then a warning that this is not acceptable behavior. Maybe she didn’t realize what a bind she would put on everyone by her emotional breakdown and walking out the door…….sometimes people just need to see the consequences to OTHERS of their actions.

    And then if it happens again -well…..

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