One of the most important ingredients for a successful business is having top quality employees. They can make the difference between a mediocre business and one that regularly outperforms the competition. All of us try to find and keep employees who routinely produce for our business. When one of these people leave, it is a setback for the business.

But not all employees fit into the same category of top performers. In fact, most are good performers but not superstars. Somewhere in that large group of average producers are others who do their jobs but occasionally irritate you with their work habits. We’ve all seen them: the employees who often come in late or leave early, make personal phone calls all day, drive your trucks for personal use or even come to work hung over.

Soon a year or two or five goes by and they are still there, coming in late or whatever their handful of shortcomings happens to be. For a while you tolerate their performance, maybe even get used to it. After all, you have many pressing matters and you can’t expect top performance out of everyone. You may even rationalize, “If I terminated them, I would have to replace them; then I would have to train someone new. And I don’t have time for that right now.” So, they stay, and you quietly gripe to yourself. You promise someday you’ll fix the situation and fire the employee — but not right now.

Judgment Day: One day you have extraordinary energy, or your patience is tested by the substandard performing employee, and in a moment of enlightened judgment you decide you have had enough. You get the nerve and finally fire the employee. You now review all the things you did not like and are more convinced than ever you made the right decision. Afterward, you miss having them do some of the work they could do, but, overall, you conclude you are better off.

A year or two or five after they have left, and long after any lingering negative memories have disappeared, you receive a phone call. “Remember me? I am leaving my current employer, and I always enjoyed working for you. What do you say, could you use someone familiar with your operation? I know your company has grown and I hear you’re really successful. Let’s talk about it.”

The next thing you know you are interviewing this person, whom you fired some time ago. Now you have a dilemma, should I rehire them? At this point your memory (and maybe your judgment) is clouded. The emotions, the trouble, their performance are all forgotten.

Next you begin rationalizing: they changed, they grew, they went to work somewhere else. You conclude they are probably a better person. Then you start looking at yourself. Your religion tells you it’s good to forgive. You feel noble, letting bygones be bygones. You are a good person. They must be a good person too. Why not give them a chance? “They are familiar with our procedures,” you think to yourself, trying to justify the decision. “Things are going to be different; he owes me one.” In your moment of weakness, you agree to hire the person back.

Impact On The Company: There are some immediate consequences from your decision. First, where do you begin with their compensation, where they left off? Certainly they didn’t gain seniority while they were gone. What about their benefits? How do you figure out what to give them? It’s a challenge.

Second, the hard-working employees who are still there will remember the person and what they routinely did that resulted in getting fired. They are going to get an inconsistent message: This person was fired for less-than-satisfactory performance but they were hired again. What does that tell them about the leadership of the company? That idea takes away from the effectiveness of any reward system or recognition system you have that acknowledges excellent performance or disciplines poor performance. The effect could be demoralizing to your entire workforce.

The people who had to “pick up the slack” and do the work the substandard employee was supposed to do and didn’t before you fired him or her are not going to be excited to have an extra burden again. They thought you were rid of the problem, and now they have more work.

Don’t think for a minute employees don’t know what is happening in the company, or who works and who doesn’t. When you fired the employee, they probably celebrated after work. Now they’re wondering what you are thinking. Unfortunately, soon you will wonder too.

Do you really think that the person changed? It happens, but not often. You hired back the same person you fired a year or two before. Before long, you notice the newly hired employee is back to their old tricks — late, hung over, using the truck, etc. People don’t change. Then you’d have to fire them a second time. Maybe I’m cynical or closed-minded, but I haven’t seen the people I have fired then rehired change much. I would guess that you haven’t either.

My lesson is simple — don’t hire back someone you’ve fired. You are not doing anyone any favors. You simply end up firing them again, and usually for the same reasons. Then you say, “I should have known better.”

The same goes for employees who’ve left on their own. From time to time they’ll call and want to come back. Although they probably didn’t have the same performance problems an employee who was fired had, they did make a decision to leave for some reason. There was something they liked better somewhere else. What is to prevent them from finding another opportunity and leaving again if you hire them back? Nothing. And they probably will.

You can’t operate a revolving door in your business where employees come and go at their whim. It’s disruptive and demoralizing for those who are loyal and stay, and it’s costly to keep up with all the administrative headaches they cause. Who’s running the business anyway? If employees can be fired or leave and always come back, they are dictating what the policies are, not you.