I fired a man today.

Officially, his employment ended following a “terminable infraction” according to our employee handbook. Unofficially, I was personally betrayed.

Previous small infractions made by this employee over several years had been documented, addressed and resolved amicably. Each time, I felt this young man was gaining better understanding of his employer’s expectations and growing as an employee and individual.

His growth was not stymied by physical or mental ability. Only an uneven temperament adversely affected consistent quality performance. I attributed this to youth. I hoped, with training, mentoring and time his character would be molded. I envisioned him eventually becoming a key man who would take responsibility for delighting clients with quality installations and that he would provide me with profits as he received financial gain and emotional satisfaction from a vital role in my company.

During the winter we discussed his ambitions. We agreed he was ready to move up from a laborer to a foreman position, where he would lead a crew. He received a pay raise, new uniforms and business cards in his new role.

We know the most difficult part of any job is starting and finishing. In between is easy. So, we have an experienced foreman teach a new foreman our tried and true methods to get a project off to a good start and how to finish. This includes: How to manage the project and his crew; How to communicate with clients and management; and How to succeed as a foreman.

He clearly understood the importance of his new position. He was given tasks and projects within his capabilities and assigned projects for the most understanding of clients. His first projects showed potential. He had success.

He also had small failures. These failures were minor, to be expected and proved a need for additional training which was given.

This past week he was given charge of the first project after that additional training. He was supervised for the start of the project and performed admirably. During the project the client received a visit from their salesman, requested additional work and received an addendum to their contract for consideration.

Yesterday, the client scheduled to visit with me. I presumed they would pay for their completed project and review the details of the addendum and I wasn’t wrong. I only wish that was the only reason for us to meet.

What this old friend and frequent client told me turned my stomach and changed the future of a young man.

After her salesman left, the young man approached her to perform the additional work she was interested in having done on her home “on the side” for half the price quoted by his employer. And he did so in front of one of his colleagues.

I have been told I am good with words, but I cannot describe to you my emotions when this young man I had mentored and trained for years betrayed me to pursue immediate personal gain over the good of his employer and his own future.

The “termination” went surprisingly smoothly. Cool heads prevailed. No effort was made to deny the transgression. A full admission along with a disturbing claim by the young man that he didn’t think he had done anything wrong confirmed my actions to end his employment. I don’t question that I did the right thing for my company, but that does not make me feel any better.

No I question my ability to judge character. I question my mentoring and training procedures. I question the value of my rewards and benefits packages. I question my ability to lead. I question my capabilities as an employer.

I fired a man today.


  1. Mark,

    You can’t blame yourself for something like this. You gave the young man a chance at growth and greatness and often you can’t tell who will achieve either until you give just such a chance. He chose not to take it. He sacrificed a long term future for a few bucks short term. I know you feel personally betrayed because you were … just remember though for everyone who fails like this you will provide opportunity to another employee who will shine and make you proud. And just that you can’t take all the credit for that success, you shouldn’t take all the blame for this failure either. Hang in there!

  2. Mark,
    Thanks for sharing a painful life lesson. I believe there are two types of people: those who initially do not trust people, until it’s proven they can be trusted, and those who initially trust, until given a reason not to. You (and I) appear to be in the latter category, and I think this is a good place to be. Unfortunately, from time to time, we just get burned. Very recently I experienced “getting burned”, but on a personal, not professional level. I doubt my judgement, as do you. All we can do is learn from it, move on, and try like Hell not to move into the other category. I think, by and large, we live a happier, more optimistic life, despite the occasional setbacks by self-centered, unscrupulous, duplicitous, short-sighted degenerates… oops! just me going off on a tangent…

  3. Mark,
    You tried to do the right thing and got burned. Just don’t think all your employees, present and future, are made the same. It is good of you to have given him many chances. His job was HIS to lose or keep. He unfortunately made the wrong decision. Someday, hopefully, he will realize that for a quick monetary gain, he lost more than the money he made.

    I too was put in the same position as this young man. I could have completed a job on the side for roughly 2 times my hourly salary with my employer. I have to admit, it was VERY TEMPTING. But honesty prevailed and I did the right thing, I refused the “cash under the table”.

    I no longer work for this employer but when I see him, 25 years more mature later, I can hold my head up high.

    Thanks for sharing this and bringing back some memories.


  4. Mark ~
    You sound like a great boss & your story rung true on so many levels. Regretfully – even in these economic conditions, I have heard similar before.
    You were correct in your judgment to promote the employee and you were correct to terminate the employee. From my vantage point of working with contractors and GC’s as a colleague I would only caution you on one thing that you wrote – “experienced foreman teach a new foreman our tried and true methods to get a project off to a good start and how to finish. This includes: How to manage the project and his crew; How to communicate with clients and management; and How to succeed as a foreman”. YOU teach the new foreman, and YOU invest time & embed loyalty & other details that are important to YOU & YOUR company. Then hand them off to the experienced foreman. It’s not that your foreman isn’t capable or trustworthy – it is that YOU as the owner are in the best position to set the bar HIGH – and not risk exposure to “Let me show you how it really works around here” or unknown poor or bad habits & attitudes – trust me, they do exist out there. In this manner you would continue to lead the education, growth & continued success of your employees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *