It happens all of the time.  You hire someone and he or she just is not a good fit for your company.  Maybe you need a self starter and she needs a lot of direction.  Maybe you need high energy and he is lethargic.  Maybe you need upbeat and she is a complainer.  Maybe you had high expectations for the salary you agreed to pay, and he just isn’t meeting those expectations.  You don’t have a lot of performance documentation, either because he just started, or she isn’t that bad.  But it isn’t working. Employment is at-will.  You can terminate for any reason as long as it isn’t illegal, right?  You don’t have to explain yourself, right?  You just tell her the truth — she isn’t the right fit.

Well, I am here to tell you that telling someone that he or she isn’t the “right fit” is simply an invitation to get sued.  But why?

When you tell someone “you are not the right fit” they often interpret it as blaming, as if you are telling them there is something wrong with them.  It makes it about them, and not about you, and the company, and what skills are needed to effectively do the job.  It makes it feel very personal.  That makes people upset, and upset former employees find lawyers.

So next time you find yourself wanting to terminate someone and tell them “you are not the right fit,” think about a better way to convey the same concept.  Try to make it about you, not them.

  • “I have lost faith/confidence in your judgment.”
  • “I am not convinced you can do the job that we need.”
  • “This is not working for either one of us.”
  • “ I am not confident that we can work successfully together.”
  • “The company needs someone who is a real self starter and can work without direction, we have not found that to be the case with your approach to work.”
  • “We need someone who can drive results and lead the team, and your numbers are below expectations.”

Of course, it is always better to have specific performance documentation with examples of failure to meet clear expectations.  But in the absence of perfect evidence, at least try to avoid the “right fit” trap.