When It Doesn’t Work Out: How to Dismiss Bar Employees

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

Unfortunately in bars, as other places, rules do get broken and consequences ensue, which may include terminating an employee. For your own protection, include a clearly worded policy in the employee manual on how you handle infractions, and follow it to the letter.

Here’s the standard sequence of escalating action to follow when problems arise:

  1. Issue a verbal warning.

    Make a note in the manager’s log and in the employee’s file that you discussed the situation.

  2. Issue a formal written warning.

    This warning typically describes the behavior, includes a plan for resolving the situation, and details the next steps if the behavior doesn’t cease (or improve) immediately. You should have a conversation with the employee, and then have her read the warning, agree to the terms, and sign it. Place the warning in her file.

  3. Suspend the employee.

    A suspension may last from a single shift to a week, typically. If you’re considering any additional time, you should likely terminate the employee.

  4. Terminate the employee.

    If the behavior continues beyond suspension, fire the employee.

You have to decide (and write down for everyone to see) what types of infractions warrant these discipline steps. Some bars have this type of policy in effect for punctuality and at other places it’s reserved for only very serious breaks in the behavior code.

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying it anyway. Do not discuss any disciplinary situations with nonmanagement staff ever. If you do, you risk opening yourself up to a whole lotta drama (including potential lawsuits) if the employee catches wind of your indiscretion. What happens in the office stays in the office!

Causes for immediate termination in bars

Some situations, especially those involving illegal activity and violence, are causes for immediate termination. When the safety of your staff, patrons, and property is involved, you can (and should) skip the multitiered discipline policy and go straight to termination.

Here’s a short list of recommendations for immediate dismissal:

  • Violence toward you, a customer, or another staff member

  • Theft

  • Flagrant rudeness to a customer

  • Drug or alcohol use at work

How to consider the legal issues involved in bar employee terminations

Definitely talk with your attorney before you open your bar to review the basics of employment law in your area. He can help you get the specifics on the regulations related to “termination with cause” and “termination without cause” to make sure you’re covering all your bases.

Your best defense is a good offense. Make sure you have clearly written policies that you (and any managers working for you) follow consistently. Document all infractions, training, and disciplinary situations so you can clearly show patterns and present evidence if the need arises.

How to change staffing levels during a bar business slowdown

In some areas, particularly seasonal resort areas, staffing up (or hiring additional people for your busy season) is a given. If you run a bar at an East Coast beach resort, you may hire extra staff between Memorial Day and Labor Day, for example. If your bar is located at a ski resort, your staffing levels may be higher between Halloween and April 1.

Communicate your temporary staffing schedules to staff members when you hire them. Explain the nature of your seasonal business and let them know how long they can expect to work for you. You can avoid the uncomfortable conversation of “you’re a great worker, but we don’t need you anymore” by being up front from the beginning.