Firing People at a Startup: Reasons and Procedure

There are going to be hires that are absolute gold for a tech startup. However, there will also be individuals who turn out to be a nightmare to employ and must be terminated for numerous reasons. Firing somebody can be difficult, but with the right documentation and justification, the person who does the firing can sleep well at night. Below are some of the reasons to fire someone, along with procedural  necessities to keep in mind.



Certain startups have gained a reputation for being a boy’s club, especially those in the tech sector. Harassment of any kind shouldn’t be tolerated especially if it is sexual/gender harassment, as it can be a nightmarish scenario for an employee and could result in a drop in productivity. Apart from financial reasons, the morale of the company as a whole will decrease, especially if a certain group is being harassed whether it is the men or the women. Bullying can be considered a form of harassment that could leave the company liable, so thwarting this at its start is incredibly important. Harassment is an issue that should be taken extremely seriously as it has no place in any place of work.

Working on Their Own Venture

At other companies this could be considered time theft, but at many tech startups, founders encourage staff to branch out and  experiment with new ideas and projects. The problem, though, arises when an employee begins to spend company time on their side venture. While poor performers might not have time to do this, higher performing employees might give it a shot. This can turn all-star employees into mediocre  ones very quickly. The shame of this is that many employers don’t realize this is happening, as they tend to concentrate on lower performing employees when considering firing someone. Make sure to reiterate to employees that personal ventures should be done on their own time – the company isn’t paying them to do another company’s work.

Social Media or PR Nightmares

Especially at tech startups, everyone is constantly tweeting or posting their latest Instagram photo or surfing on Reddit. While there is nothing wrong with this, an insensitive tweet or post can cripple a startup, even more so if done by a high-ranking, highly visible employee. The company will likely have to fire this person. If a company fails to fire someone who has posted something sexist or racist material, this inaction can make it seem as if they condone such behavior. The fact that customers could leave or avoid coming back as a result of such offensive messaging could be considered the icing on the cake when justifying firing this individual.



In most cases, it is important to give the employee a warning. Firing an individual on the spot, without a warning, can create a negative office atmosphere, with workers wary of approaching management with problems or concerns. Documenting these warnings, even if they were verbal, is important. Something as simple as sending a recap email to the individual reprimanded can help protect the startup.

Protect the Startup Legally

While there are some startups that have a gang of corporate lawyers on retainer, others are strapped for cash, so procedure is extremely important. There are federal statutes that protect an employee from being discriminated against for race, sex, age or gender. Documentation is critical, because even if a manager or founder doesn’t think a person will sue, that belief isn’t a guarantee. Having iron-clad policies and clarifying them to staff is important before firing somebody, as policy changes without documentation of the staff being aware is a lawsuit waiting to .

Decrease Firings with an Extensive Hiring Process

Firing employees will never end completely at a company; even the most intense of vetting processes  won’t eliminate firings completely. “Hire slowly and fire quickly” has been a mantra of many startups in the tech industry. Vet potential hires and follow up with references, as well as doing a background check. A multi-step interview process with assignments due  at specific times can also be a great way to show if an applicant can work under pressure and is deadline oriented.

Firing employees is part of the job. Hiring all of the right people is impossible, but taking steps to increase the  number of great hires is essential. Regardless of the size of your startup, there will be a time to let people go, be confident as the correct documentation and decision is being made.

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Written by:
Tommy Wyher is a writer out of the great state of Florida and has written for numerous publications. He enjoys reading about the newest and latest developments in tech and social media.
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