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Seven Lessons Learned From Firing 300 People

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Over the course of many years, I’ve fired more than 300 employees at our concrete construction company.

The list of reasons for the dismissals is long and varied. I’ve fired people because they’ve caused problems on job sites, refused to take direction from their Foremen, stolen from the company or coworkers, been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and a number of other offences.

Most of the time, though, I’ve let people go because they just weren’t working hard enough. Even after discussions about working harder and being more productive, they stayed in first gear and never improved. This has been the most common reason for letting someone go.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons that may help you when you find yourself in the same situation.


Lesson #1: Do It in Private

There are very rare exceptions where you have to fire someone immediately and publicly to set an example for the entire organization. In those cases, do it compellingly and be sure everyone knows exactly why the person is being fired. In the other 99% of cases, let the person go in private and without a lot of employees around.

For example, if all of your laborers come into the office in the morning before heading out to the job site, keep the person to be fired at your office until the crews have left. Then fire the person. Let them leave with dignity.


Lesson #2: You Never Know How the Firing Will Go

The people you don’t think will cause a problem will sometimes be the most trouble for you. Those that you are sure will make a huge scene will sometimes go away quietly. You never know. Expect the best outcome, but be prepared for anything.


Lesson #3: They Will Be Surprised

Most employees believe they are working harder than anyone else on the job site. Their dismissal will be a surprise to them. They will insist that you talk with their coworkers to substantiate their value. These coworkers, by the way, will be the same ones that demanded that you get that person off their crew and replace them with a better worker.


Lesson #4: Have Others Present

If you think the person you are going to fire will cause a problem at that moment or later on, then have one or more additional people present during the firing. This will give you witnesses if there is a claim made against you. It will also deter the person from acting out at the time of firing.


Lesson #5: Have A Good Labor Attorney on Speed Dial

Find an exceptional attorney that specializes in labor law and establish a good relationship with them. Make sure they are accessible for a quick phone call if you are mulling over a labor issue. If they don’t return your call for two days, you won’t be likely to call them when you have an urgent issue.

Before acting on a difficult decision or situation, talk with this attorney to get their input. While you don’t have to do exactly as they recommend, they will likely point out something you haven’t yet thought of.

I have to mention that we use the attorney David Whitlock – also a contributor to this magazine – and have found his counsel to be invaluable.


Lesson #6: Pay Them a Little More

In many industries, it is common to pay severance pay when a person is fired. I’ve learned that when you fire an employee, it’s best to pay them for a little extra time. For example, fire them at the bottom of the hour, but pay them until the top of the hour. As you are letting them go explain that you’ll pay them for that extra half hour.

This one simple act costs you little, yet makes the firing go much more smoothly. It also allows you to focus on that act of generosity, which softens the blow and makes them more receptive to the firing. Trust me, this works.


Lesson #7: Sometimes, They’ll Thank You

If a person doesn’t work well at your company, it is often because it’s just not a good fit for them. Their ideal job may be in a totally different industry. When you fire them, you put them one step closer to finding their dream job. We once fired a young man who stopped by our office a few months later simply to thank us for firing him and to report that he was currently working at a job that he loved.

As you’ve surely learned from being in the construction industry, whenever you are dealing with people, it’s impossible to predict how they will react. When you do find yourself in a position where you have to fire someone, consider these seven lessons and you’ll make the dismissal a little easier on you and on them.


Doug Herbert

About the Author

Doug Herbert is President of Herbert Construction Co., one of the largest residential concrete contractors in the southeast. Doug is a regular presenter for the CFA and World of Concrete. He is the Founder of where he shows concrete contractors how to reduce their costs and increase their profits with effective sales and marketing systems. Reach Doug at


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