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Is it OK to terminate an employee right before Christmas? 

December 16th, 2022 | 3 min. read

By Robbie Bryant

'Tis the season to be jolly… or unemployed?! The question often comes up if it is justifiable to terminate an employee right before Christmas. It could be for any number of reasons; performance-based, the fact that payroll costs need to come down, or the company may risk going out of business. We all know that there is never a good time to terminate someone. All parties experience added amounts of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. Hopefully, the key points that follow will help provide a clear line of focus should your company be faced with the all-too-familiar question of whether or not to terminate an employee right before the holidays. 

So is it OK to terminate an employee around the holidays?

Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple! Nor is there a “one size fits all” answer to provide. Of course, there are times when immediate termination is required (i.e. violation of zero-tolerance policies such as sexual harassment or drug/alcohol use in the workplace, violence in the workplace, disregard of public policy, an increased danger to said person and those around him/her, or the simple fact of keeping the business running based on cost containment). Other times, a judgment call must be made. Below are a few thoughts to help guide your train of thought as to terminate someone before or after the Christmas holiday.  

What are your current staffing needs 

One often overlooked outcome of terminating a staff member is the remaining staff. More times than not, the remaining staff is left to juggle the additional workload of the terminated staff member. This additional workload will take extra hours and may cause existing staff members to not meet their own goals/metrics based on the additional workload. It is important to think about the downstream impact of those employees left to pick up the pieces of the termination. After all, your most valuable assets are your people.  

How will this impact employee morale?

Not to add insult to injury, but a recent survey from found that 88% of survey respondents state that the holidays are the most stressful time of year. Staff already have high stress levels and having to take on an additional workload to help keep the company operational only adds to that mental strain. What happens if the extra work makes an employee not meet their year-end goals, which could ultimately alter their Christmas bonus (should one be offered)? Not only are your existing employees inevitably experiencing more stress but they could also be suffering in the pocketbook. Or, even worse, what if your existing employees miss time with loved ones that had been planned based on the additional workload involved? 

What will it mean to your company's reputation in the labor market?

Reputation has always been important, but even more so with the challenging labor market. Everyone is fighting for great talent and a company’s reputation has a lot to offer when a candidate is deciding on where to work. Word gets around quickly in the day of social media, and the last reputation anyone wants is to be branded with are scrooges who terminate staff right before Christmas. Of course, people will talk and there are always two sides of a story, but your company’s reputation is something that cannot go without mention.  

Can you coach your soon-to-be-terminated employee?

Chances are that the employee to be terminated has been on some sort of performance improvement plan if they are to be terminated for performance. I have always told my managers that there should never be a time where someone’s performance review or performance check-in feedback should ever come as a surprise to that person. Job performance is something, that if done correctly, is surrounded by clear goals, frequent check-ins with that person’s manager, and coaching to desired behavior. That being said, the employee to be terminated probably should have been terminated before this point. What will a few extra weeks of employment for this individual harm if it saves additional workload and morale of the existing staff? Only you can make that call as a business owner.  

On the other hand, will it hurt your business to keep this person?

You will also run the risk of holding on to a poor people/job fit employee for too long. What if this person has had issues with absenteeism and takes leave for an undetermined period. You may be stuck with this employee even longer than expected. What happens if you keep a poor people fit too long and the rest of the staff knows that this person should not be in his/her role? It is always easier and feels better to keep giving people multiple chances rather than the alternative of termination, but this decision could become exponentially more costly to your organization.  

In the end, the decision is up to you. Talk to your HR team!

As you can see, judgment is always needed when making the decision to terminate someone right before Christmas. Not only do you need to think about the person being terminated, but also the remaining staff and how the termination may impact them. Also, compassion goes a long way, so it may be best to wait a few weeks to terminate should the employee have a family, be well-liked in the workplace, etc.  

Again, there are risks associated with termination of an employee before or after Christmas. Whirks offers a variety of HR services and support to help with scenarios like these. Give us a call or click here to learn more about how we can help take the guesswork out of scenarios and decisions like this.