• United States



Terminating a Trusted Employee

Feb 01, 20068 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Concerned about whether an employee is fit for a job? Sometimes your gut knows best

With any luck at all, most of you reading this will not face the dilemma of having to terminate the employment of one of your most trusted associates. I did. And, in hindsight, the whole situation could have been avoided if I had listened to my gut during the hiring process and in the months that followed.

What follows is an account of the warning signs that kept popping up everywhere, but which I failed to heed. Perhaps it will help those of you who face similar questions about whether someone is the right fit for your team.

Sloppy Clothes and Unpaid Bills

I was one of those “one person” security/asset protection/loss-prevention departments for nearly two years. After that time, I sought to convince the “suits”the C-level executivesthat adding another security professional would save money in the long run. They concurred.

We posted the position on Monster’s website and received more than 600 résumés. Once we narrowed the list of qualified applicants to a manageable number, we brought them in for personal interviews. To decrease the candidates’ apprehension, we asked them to dress casually. Even then, the majority appeared in suits or sport coats and ties. But not the person I’ll call “Steve”he wore a long-sleeved, open-collared shirt and tan khakis. That satisfied “casual” in my dictionary. What was somewhat bothersome about Steve was that his clothes looked like they had been slept in.

We contracted with a national firm to do Steve’s background check. The only real negative was that Steve had a number of unpaid monthly bills. Even before we asked him about those bills, however, he told us that because he had been out of work for several months, he had fallen behind in making some payments.

I’m still not sure if his appearance and unpaid bills should have been clues to his future performance. But it fits part of the puzzle.

The Force Wasn’t With Him

The candidate we were looking for needed to have some law enforcement experience, which Steve did. While his most recent employment was in security/loss prevention at a large company, prior to that he had been a sworn law enforcement officer with a midsize city agency. Typical of one ex-cop interviewing another ex-cop, we exchanged war stories and forged a common bond.

When you hire a former police officer, in my opinion one of the first thoughts should be, why is he no longer a cop? In Steve’s case, he was less than a decade away from retirement. Was he pressured to leave? Was he terminated, and if so, why? Was he indicted? Is he lying about why he left?

With no contacts at his former law enforcement agency, I was stonewalled when I tried to inquire about his departure. I took the assumption that he’d left because he got fed up with internal politics and saw greener pastures in the private sector.

(Eventually, about a month before his departure, Steve told me why he had left. He had been selected to work in a specialized unit, a job that he loved, when a new chief came in and rotated him out of that unit and onto the graveyard shift. At that point, he quit.)

Steve Is Hired

Two months and 18 personal interviews later, we hired the person we thought was the perfect candidate. After a very brief orientation period, Steve was off and running.

While far from ideal, our function at the time was strictly emergency room. Stop the bleeding. Don’t worry about how it started, just stop it and move on to the next crisis.

Less than a month after his break-in period Steve was assigned to do an investigation outside of his normal region, which he accepted willingly. While I’m not one to second-guess another’s internal investigation, having given Steve the assignment I surmised that it would take approximately four days, excluding travel. Steve was done in a day and a half!

Although the end result was satisfactory, the brevity of his investigation left us scratching our heads. But like any emergency-room operation, we didn’t have time to dwell on that, so we moved on.

Several months later, Steve became immersed in another investigation, which resulted in law enforcement intervention and an arrest. What was bothersome was the report Steve submitted; it was just one and a half, single-spaced pages! And that covered, supposedly, interviews with nearly 20 company associates, two interviews with the suspect, the investigation itself and the list of evidence collected and surrendered to law enforcement.

The report Steve submitted was bothersome. It was just one and a half pages covering, supposedly, two interviews with the suspect and nearly 20 company associates.

Sometime later Steve conducted a relatively minor series of investigations in his region. In each instance, he couldn’t get the malefactor to admit culpability. Each time, Steve would call me and ask to be sent to an advanced interview technique school because he didn’t feel he was performing as he should. On one hand, I had to compliment him for thinking this way, but on the other, I expressed no dissatisfaction with his performance. Don’t worry about it, I told him, everyone goes through stretches when, no matter what they do or say, the crook just won’t talk.

While this may not have been a clue by itself, coupled with his inability to adequately document his investigations and interviews, I began to get frustrated.

Wake Up and Smell the Red Flags

Finally, I started to heed the warning signs.

Steve’s position required him to audit at least two stores a week in his region. After excluding the stores within an hour’s drive of his home, Steve needed to be away from home at least three nights every week to conduct the audits as directed. However, he coached a number of his children’s sports teams. As anyone who’s ever coached a team knows, it usually involves at least one day a week of practice, plus the game or games.

Where was he finding the time to carry out his job?

It gets better. On two occasions in the last nine months or so that Steve worked for us, I reached him by phone as he was transporting one of his children to a scheduled doctor’s appointment during the work day. Steve’s wife, who worked out of their house, was home on both occasions.

I purposely did not address the issues at the time, as I didn’t want to seem sexist by implying that Steve’s wife should be the person taking the child to the doctor.

Last May, Steve and I met at his office for a review of his completed audits. It was a good meeting. We went to dinner together and I left town early the next morning.

Upon returning to my office the following Monday, I noticed that Steve had failed to send me his activity report on the preceding Friday, a standard requirement. I fired off a quick e-mail to him asking that he send it. Given the different time zones we were in, I didn’t expect an immediate reply and then forgot about it until we joined up later that morning for a conference call.

Not wanting to embarrass him on the phone, I asked him if he had seen my e-mail message; he said yes. I then said something to the effect of, “Then, get with it.” And, let it go at that.

Our conference call lasted less than an hour; by 2 o’clock that afternoon I still hadn’t received his report. By this time, my blood was beginning to boil. So, I called his office number and left a message, telling him once again to send the report.

The following day, I sent Steve another e-mail, indicating that I had yet to receive his activity report; I told him to call me, which he did. I knew better than to have an extended conversation with him at that point. I asked that he send me an e-mail outlining his daily activity over the past week within the hour. When I received it, it was so self-serving and suspect that I sent him a reply requesting a more detailed report again within the hour.

An hour came and went and no report. So, this time I called him on his cell phone and asked him where he was. After tripping over himself trying to formulate a reply, he ended up telling me the truthhe was picking up his daughter from school! I never did ask him where his wife was. I told him I wanted a detailed report of where he had been every day the past week, and even if he had to stop on the side of the road and send it, I wanted it within the next 15 minutes. I got it.

He claimed to have completed two audits that week; he actually had completed only one. He claimed to have been in the office on a day when he wasn’t. The rest of the time, he said, he had been home straightening out problems with his remodelers. He justified being home and not at the office by claiming that he had been taking phone calls during that time from his direct reports and operations people.

Steve is no longer with us. We allowed him to resign. I assume he’s out there looking for another loss prevention position. I hope he’s learned his lesson. I know I’ve learned mine. The warning signs were there, I just didn’t act on them.