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Can You Fire Employees on the Spot? Six Scenarios to Consider

Handling employee behavioral issues can be tricky. In most cases, a “progressive discipline” approach is recommended: First, you should counsel the individual, and if the problem persists, follow up with written warnings before proceeding to termination. This cautious approach helps protect your business from a potential lawsuit. Though this is true of most situations, there are exceptions. Sometimes the situation is so severe, your best bet is to end the work relationship immediately. Let’s look at three zero-tolerance scenarios where on-the-spot firing is acceptable — and three where it’s not.
  • Firing employees after threats of violence

    Scenario 1: Threats of Violence

    Fire on the spot? Yes

    When disgruntled employees take out their anger at work, the consequences can be dire. That’s why verbal threats, stalking or outright acts of violence are grounds for immediate termination. Depending on the situation, you may need to involve another person as a witness to the firing — or even call the police if the behavior has escalated.

  • Firing employees after neglecting to follow safety measures

    Scenario 2: Neglecting to Follow Safety Measures

    Fire on the Spot? Yes

    You’re responsible for providing a safe workplace. Assuming you’re complying with the safety standards that apply to your business and industry — and have trained employees on the proper precautions — you can and should immediately terminate an employee who blatantly ignores these safety measures.

  • Firing employees for profanity toward a coworker or customer

    Scenario 3: Profanity Toward a Coworker or Customer

    Fire on the spot? Yes

    Vulgar outbursts against a colleague or customer should never be ignored. Religious, racial, ethnic and gender-based slurs are especially problematic, because they can quickly veer into harassment. An employee who swears too much may need only counseling, but one who hurls profanities or slurs in a heated argument should be shown the door.

  • Can I fire an employee who is frequently absent?

    Scenario 4: Frequent Absences

    Fire on the Spot? No

    Excessive absenteeism should be addressed, especially when you’re dealing with employees who are always late or frequently call out sick. But be careful. Some absences are protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other employment laws, and shouldn’t lead to disciplinary action or discharge. Get the facts before you make a decision.

  • Can I fire an employee sharing salary information?

    Scenario 5: Sharing Salary or Bonus Information

    Fire on the Spot? No

    Though you may prefer that employees not talk about their wages, you can’t stop them from doing so. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives employees the right to discuss hours, pay and working conditions. In fact, such discussions, even on social media such as Facebook, are a form of “protected concerted activity.”

  • Am I able to fire employees who submit complaints about discrimination and harassment?

    Scenario 6: Complaining about Discrimination or Harassment

    Fire on the spot? No

    Firing an employee who complains about discrimination or harassment (or reports illegal or unethical activity) is considered illegal retaliation. Other forms of adverse action, such as demotion, salary reduction or change in job assignment, are also prohibited by law.

  • Protect your business with solid policies

    Protect Your Business with Solid Policies

    Formal, written employee policies are your first line of defense with any disciplinary action. “Your polices should clearly outline the rules of your workplace, as well as the potential consequences for any misconduct or violations,” says Shanna Wall, compliance attorney for ComplyRight. For assistance in creating a comprehensive, attorney-approved policy manual, check out our easy-to-use handbook software.


Jaime Lizotte
Presented by: Jaime Lizotte,
HR Solutions Manager
Hiring, recordkeeping, time and attendance tracking, employee discipline, filing 1099 and W2s ... all of these tasks create overhead expenses and detract from revenue-generating activities.