Note: If you haven’t read the other articles, you may want to read them first. This is a different situation than a simple firing that has to follow HR Policy. It is completely political and needs to be thought of differently. Do it wrong and you lose your job.
How to fire a protected employee
Part I: The Boss says yes
The “Boss says yes” is misleading. It isn’t simple to get to this point. In fact, the whole point of this series is getting the Boss to say “yes.” Better yet, you would like the Boss to be the one to do it.
To repeat an earlier point: You fire an employee when they become a liability to you. You fire a protected employee, Made Man, when they become a liability to your Boss, the Protector.
So how do you get the Boss to this point? You need: time, patience, facts and more facts. The Boss needs to see the Made Man as the problem. Since this is a contradiction of how he feels about the Made Man, it takes time. Just as you give your family member more benefit of the doubt than you do a friend, so does the Boss towards his protected employee.
This seems simple, but many people misjudge the situation, the depth of the feelings, and attempt to rush the inevitable outcome.
Remember, you were brought to the company and placed over the Made Man for a reason, probably because s/he couldn’t handle the job, or at the very least wasn’t ready for it due to inexperience. Perhaps you were initially brought in to groom the Made Man, or at least that is what s/he was led to believe. If this is the reason, you will need a lot of time to let them go and something major to push them out – such as direct actions which caused the loss of a lot of money, which affected the Boss’ pocket.
Most likely the Boss realized the Made Man couldn’t handle bigger responsibilities and wanted someone who could implement his vision. He didn’t say he wanted you to Whack the Made Man, but he did say he needed someone with something the Made Man lacked. (Refer to the “why” article for some reasons that you will need to let them go under this scenario). This will still take quite a bit of time and facts that make the Protected Man look bad, which makes the Boss look bad for protecting him/her. You will need proof that the mistakes were directly created by the Protected Man. You may need corroborating support from other employees or outside customers.
He possibly wanted a buffer between himself and the Made Man. He might even recognize that the person needs to get Whacked, but can’t bring himself to do it directly. If this is the case, it still takes time, but far less of it, and will be dictated by the Boss as to when.
Once the Boss says yes, you get HR involved under standard protocol. But the Boss has to approve the Whack (fire) – in writing via HR documents or email. Don’t attempt it without some written support. You never know how the employee will respond or what they may believe they have on the Boss, which could get him to “reconsider” the situation and leave you hanging. This becomes impossible with HR involvement and his signature. Even if HR Policy gives you the authority to fire someone without higher approval, don’t do it. You treat the protected employee differently.
(If the Boss refuses to sign anything, then proceed to Part II: The Boss says no as this is effectively the same thing even though he said “yes”)
Move quickly! Don’t give the Made Man any time to save his job or the Boss to change his mind. Do it by the end of the day, if possible, but no later than a week after approval.
Be generous with the severance, provided the Boss approves it. This employee was loyal to the Boss, probably the company, and needs to feel as good about the situation as possible. Offer them Outplacement, references and anything else they want within reason to help them try to find another job. It isn’t your job to help the Made Man and Boss stay friends, but you don’t want to deepen the hurt and rift in their relationship either.
Part II: The Boss says no
As we established in the first article on this subject, you “can” eliminate a Protected Employee without the Boss(es) approval(s). If the “why” you should fire the Made Man has been established, then you must proceed with the Whack. You have an obligation to the Company and responsibility to your other employees.
We further established the “when” you should make your move. Refer back to the article if necessary.
So the Boss said no. If the facts substantiated the Whack, then you know the loyalty runs deep or the Made Man has something on the Boss.
If your ability to do your job is highly jeopardized, if it is the absolute right thing to do, and if HR Policy gives you permission to Whack without higher approval, then do it swiftly. It needs to be a surprise to the Made Man. It would be best if the Boss was out of town.
This is devious and dangerous. Congratulations, you just graduated to Mafia Tactics.
If HR Policy doesn’t provide you the ability to do it without your Boss’ permission, or if it would absolutely cost you your job even if HR Policy did allow it, then you must proceed in an entirely different manner.
When you have no other option, the only way to get rid of the protected employee, the Made Man, is to either wait until they screw up so badly that the Boss has no choice or you have to get the individual to quit. Neither one of these is likely since they are protected. The screw up could be costly to you too if the screw up is something you should have prevented. And driving them to quit is difficult since they are loyal to the Boss and the company.
But here are some tactics that can work given time.
Issue formal warnings or negative employee reviews – if they are based on fact the Boss will have a hard time preventing this.
Change their responsibilities – either because they can’t handle what they are doing (easy to justify), or because you are “grooming them” (totally devious, but effective). Make sure they are responsibilities they don’t want and/or can’t handle.
Reduce their responsibilities – similar to “change” but not necessarily the same.
Reduce their visibility – Keep them out of the loop on anything and everything in your department, remove them from meetings, and only communicate when you have to and preferably by email on anything you want to hang them with and verbally with anything you don’t want “on record.” Don’t include them in important projects and exclude them from social functions.
Hire someone else - Once you have changed or reduced their responsibilities, find some way to justify hiring someone else to pick up the slack. There is nothing like reducing the bottom line due to additional overhead because your Made Man can’t handle his/her job.
Reduce their bonus and/or raise percentage – this becomes easy once they have less responsibility and aren’t performing as well. You can justify it further by giving their portion to the new person.
Promote them or move them – Shift the problem to someone else! This only works if you haven’t let everyone in the company know about the problem and the company is big enough that they didn’t hear about it from someone else.
If all else fails, find a recruiter or two who can find them a job. Or recommend them every time a recruiter calls you about a job. If you have done all of the above, the Made Man may start looking on his own and a timely recruiter call could push him over the edge and out the door.
There is no easy way to deal with a situation like a Protected Employee, particularly one you were hired to replace. Once it becomes clear that they can’t or won’t work with you, you have to make a change for the better of the company.
Ultimately it will be better for your Boss. And if the Protected Employee, the so called Made Man, is capable of learning anything from the experience, then he or she will ultimately be better off for it to.
Each situation is different and this 4 part series hardly addressed all of them. If you are in a tough spot like this, you should seek professional counsel, such as a career coach. In addition to me, we run many articles from coaches who may be able to help you. Or you may wish to find someone close to you in your own town.
You should also consult with an attorney if it is justified. Under no circumstances should you make a move like this without seeking someone’s counsel. Also, you should pay for their services privately. You don’t want them to be obligated to report to the company about your discussions should the situation turn legally challenging. After you win, you can always ask for reimbursement (but don’t expect it).
Remember that you need to be methodical and take your time on this move. And document it every step of the way.
Be prepared to lose if something goes wrong, including the loss of your job. Have an exit strategy such as backing off the move if it isn’t going well, or looking for another job just in case.