How to [Gulp] Fire Someone

No dance studio owner enjoys having to let someone go, but for the health of your business, it’s sometimes essential. Here is advice from a studio owner and two human resources experts on how to handle it properly.

Illustration of a man who's been fired walking toward the exit with a cardboard box of his personal belongings
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Firing a staff member can be an unfortunate reality if you’re a studio owner. Suzanne Blake Gerety, co-owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, NH, once hired a teacher with amazing credentials and choreography, but he wasn’t connecting with the students or fitting in with the studio’s neighborhood dance-school culture. Parents were complaining and kids were dropping out of classes, posing a potential threat to her business. Gerety was left with no choice.

The Right Way to Fire Someone

“You’ll soon know when someone is not a good fit,” says Gerety, who listens to her gut. “Ideally, you have a teacher finish the whole year to avoid any disruption to the students, but sometimes that’s not possible. Sometimes the longer you wait to let someone go, the more damage that will be caused in the end.”

Here are some guidelines to help you handle this delicate situation.

Have clear expectations in place. 

When you bring new teachers onboard at your studio, be sure to have them sign a written contract that lays out your ground rules. Also, give them an employee handbook that details what is and isn’t acceptable performance or behavior. Once you’ve communicated your guidelines, it should be easier to determine when they aren’t being met. “If you can lay out expectations at the beginning and have employees sign that document, saying that they understand, it’s so much easier to refer back to that and say, ‘You’re not meeting expectations,’” says Kristen Vitek, human resources director for Revolution Dancewear. 

Communicate dissatisfaction—and document that communication.

It’s important to maintain open lines of communication with your staff—and know how and when to take action when needed. If you sense a problem, sit down with the employee. Be clear and honest about your concerns and express willingness to help him or her improve.

“Ultimately, someone should know they’re on the brink of getting terminated,” says Vitek. “It should never be a surprise. You’ll have been having those conversations about not meeting expectations along the way.” 

Since there is always the possibility that a dismissed employee will take legal action, it’s important to base dismissals solely on reasons related to performance or business needs. Keep careful records of any issues that do arise, says Vitek, “even if it’s just you following up with an e-mail or text message, saying, ‘This is just to confirm our conversation that we had on January 7 about X, Y and Z.’ And keep notes for yourself.”

Handle the situation professionally.

If you think it’s time to let an employee go, gather all necessary information and reach a final decision (with any senior staff, if applicable) before you meet with the employee, says HR recruiter Ashley Meunier. In the meeting, don’t offer apologies, and don’t allow negotiations. Be kind but firm, and have a third party present.

Vitek recommends practicing the termination conversation with a staff member before going through with it. “Emotions can get in the way,” she says. “Just walk through the scenario with someone else first.” 

Ensure a smooth transition.

Formally communicate staff changes to students and parents. Have a plan in place for addressing an employee firing and minimizing the disruption such a change can cause. Obviously, students and their parents, as well as other staff members, will want to know what happened. Be straightforward with your students. Be communicative, convey enthusiasm for the future and ask parents to come to you if they have further questions, so the rumor mill doesn’t start churning. “You don’t need to tell the whole situation, but you can say that so-and-so has decided to move on,” says Vitek. “When everybody hears the same message from you, that gets you out in front of the issue.”

For more on managing people at your dance business, see “5 Steps to Hiring the Right Person, Every Time,” “What’s Better Than a Noncompete? Try These 5 Strategies,” and “3 Reasons to Make Delegating a Priority—Starting Now.”

Reporting contributed by Rachel Rizzuto, Debbie Strong, Betsy Farber. Last updated January 13, 2020