How Do I Fire A Volunteer Who Isn’t Getting the Work Done?

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. How do I fire a volunteer who’s not getting the work done?

I am the president of a local industry society with an all-volunteer board of directors. We have a very large project that one non-board volunteer eagerly agreed to lead. It was supposed to start last fall, but due to circumstances beyond her control, it’s just now getting started.

We gathered up a dozen volunteers to help on the project and are having a kickoff meeting soon, but the volunteer still hasn’t contacted those people to let them know it’s happening now. I’ve followed up with her several times, and each time the response is “I’m working on it today” or “I’ll get it out this week.” I have spoken with this volunteer about ensuring she has the time to commit to this project and she reassures me she does, though I’m not seeing any action on her part. Over the last 10 months I’ve given her several opportunities to gracefully bow out, but she doesn’t take me up on it. It’s very frustrating. I’m ready to find someone else to lead the project, but how do I fire her?

Green responds:

Are you willing to give her one final chance or are you at the point where you need to remove her now? If you think she could have a final chance as long as it’s accompanied by a clear warning to her that there won’t be another, you could say this: “I know you’ve been really busy. We need X, Y, and Z to happen pretty urgently at this point. If you’re not able to do that by (date), I’m going to need to find someone else to lead the project. I hope you understand.”

But if you’re past the point where that makes sense, say it this way: “I appreciate you trying to make this work with your schedule. Unfortunately this is time-sensitive and I know your other commitments have gotten in the way of the timelines we’ve talked about previously. At this point, I need to find someone else to lead the project. If your schedule does clear up, we could talk about you participating in a different way.”

2. Did this job candidate mislead us about college?

I interviewed someone who seemed like an strong fit. The behavior, technical, and simulation-job-responsibility portions of the interview were all above average, and they were well-spoken and outgoing, both of which are important for the position.

As a policy, we always requests transcript for recent graduates which requires candidate approval. When we got this candidate’s transcript, we found that although they listed a moderately high major GPA on their resume, they failed many courses in their area of study, one class more than once, and throughout their whole college career.

At first, I was shocked and dismayed by the apparent lie: no way those F’s lead to that GPA. After investigating their school’s policy, it is likely that most, if not all, of those F’s would not be counted towards a GPA since they were retaken and passed within four attempts. So they weren’t lying, but I’m very concerned about the number of failed courses, even if they later passed most of them.

Should we call and ask the candidate about this? Is their behavior misleading? Would you hire a candidate that interviewed well upon finding out that they had failed multiple somewhat relevant courses? On one hand, we may be passing on a solid candidate haunted by tough times or poor decisions, but on the other hand we risk hiring someone who can’t follow through or is willing to sweep negatives under the rug.

Green responds:

If the school considers the person’s GPA to be, say, 3.8 because of the way they calculate it, then the candidate didn’t do anything wrong by reporting a GPA of 3.8. You didn’t ask, “Did you fail a bunch of courses?” You asked for GPA, and that’s what you got.

So I don’t think this candidate was shady or misleading.

However, if you have concerns about the number of failed courses, ask the person about it! You might find out that they were dealing with a serious health issue during that time or going through a family crisis. Or you might find out that they spent most of their college years drunk, who knows. But if the person’s performances in the courses is important to you, then ask and give them a chance to explain before you assume anything.

And of course, if this person weren’t a recent graduate, I’d tell you to ignore this altogether and look at what they’ve accomplished since leaving school, which is a better predictor of success than their GPA anyway. But it sounds like they did graduate recently, so that may be irrelevant advice.

3. My employee’s boyfriend asked for my permission to marry her

The boyfriend of one of my employee recently contacted me and said he was planning on proposing to her and wanted to get my permission before he did. I had no idea why he would ask me! He explained that his girlfriend was raised by her mother after her father left and I’m the closest thing she has to a father figure. He even showed me texts where they discussed getting married in the future and she mentions me being like a father to her and says my blessing would be great. This surprised me; we have a manager/employee relationship but that’s as far as it goes. We aren’t involved in each other’s personal lives, and I can’t recall a time when we have spoken outside of work, although I certainly care about all of my employees.

This feels awkward and weird since I hardly know either one of them! My employee has never told me she considers me like a father or attempted to have a relationship with me besides a professional one. I want to gently let them down. How should I handle this without making the situation even more awkward than it already is? The proposal is meant to be a surprise and I don’t want to ruin it.

Green responds:

This is super weird.I’d just tell him that you think your employee is great but that as her boss you wouldn’t feel comfortable with it, and that you wish them both much happiness. A sample script: “Jane is a great employee, and I enjoy having her on my team. It’s nice to hear that I’ve been a positive role model for her. But as her boss, it really wouldn’t be appropriate for me to weigh in on something happening in her personal life in this way. But of course I wish you both much happiness!”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

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