Keeping an unpopular instructor on staff can have a direct impact on your ability to retain clients and maintain morale among your top performing instructors. But it’s not uncommon to procrastinate letting the instructor go because of the potentially awkward, sad and uncomfortable conversation that it requires.

When you are unhappy with an instructor’s performance, firing that person should not be your first step. Termination should never come as a surprise. Instead, set goals and lead a coaching session during which you spell out the objectives and set a time frame for improvement.

If the goals you set for an instructor’s improvement are not met and it is clear the time has come to make a change, it’s essential to properly prepare for the termination conversation.

Many instructors work for studios as independent contractors, meaning they are not employees of the company but are paid as vendors or service providers. Independent contractors provide instruction services under terms set by a written or verbal contract.

You may already be aware that terminating an employee without justifiable cause can open you up to the risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit. But terminating a working relationship with an independent contractor, if handled incorrectly, can also create legal headaches for your business.

Before sitting down to tell an instructor it is time to part ways, call your lawyer. If you have a written contract with your instructor — and you really should — make sure that what you say and do to terminate the instructor follow the terms of the contract. For example, does the contract say that you need to give 30, 60 or 90 days notice before the terminating the contract? Are there performance-based terms in the contract, such as class attendance and bringing in new clients?

The power of a verbal agreement is just as strong as a written contract. However, it is a lot more ambiguous. If you told an instructor he or she would be able to teach three classes per week for a year, and you are not fulfilling on that by ending the working relationship, you might be in breach of contract. Sit down and think about all of the conversations about working terms you’ve had with your instructor to safeguard yourself from a lawsuit.

A conflict about clients could be as big of a headache as a legal mess. If you have an independent contractor agreement or non-compete agreement, it should spell out who gets to keep the clients once you and the instructor part ways. If there is nothing in writing and you’ve never discussed this issue, an instructor can leave your studio, open his or her own studio down the street and actively market to your clients. Make sure you and all of your instructors have a clear understanding of the rights all of you have with regards to the clients after an instructor leaves.

After coaching the instructor in an effort to improve his or her performance and making sure you are on the up-and-up, legally speaking, put yourself in a positive mindset.

“In my experiences, people fall down when they make this conversation a dreaded event,” says Donna Flagg, CEO of Lastics studio in NYC and author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations. “People torture themselves when they perceive termination as a terrible thing. You have to change your mindset from a negative to a positive.  Think, ‘What is the big deal?’ If the arrangement with the instructor isn’t working out, then it’s not working out.”

Flagg also says that being fired can affect a person emotionally, but that doesn’t mean it is affecting them negatively. If you enter into the conversation positively and can communicate that parting ways is necessary and the best thing for everyone, it can improve the relationship you have with the instructor in the future.

“The outcome is only as bad as you make it,” she says. “The best advice is to not make it a bigger deal than it is. If it’s not working out, just say so. You’ll get respect for being clear, direct and humane. And if you care about the relationship, it will remain intact.”


Do: Set an appointment for a face-to-face conversation.

Don’t: Have the conversation alone. Invite a second party so you have a witness to what has been said in case the instructor does file a lawsuit. Kathi Elster, executive coach and coauthor of Mean Girls at Work, Working with You is Killing Me and Working for You Isn’t Working for Me, recommends that you decide when the end day for working will be and when the end date for pay will be. “Usually it’s best to give some extra money to soften the blow,” says Elster.

Do: Be clear about the fact that you’re terminating them, without burning bridges or inspiring revenge behaviors such as breaching confidentiality or taking clients.

Don’t: Get into an argument or long discussion, because you made your decision and it is non-negotiable. Keep your explanation short but specific. For example, “We set X objective to be and it was not met.” There is no need to hurt the person’s feelings. The employee may vent and ask questions, but just listen and repeat your concise message.

Do: Create a phrase that anchors your message. Make it simple and clear. Try something similar to, “We have to let you go.” You don’t have to open the conversation with your phrase and you can express admiration and regret, but you should end with your key phrase.

According to Tina Gilbertson, author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them, repeating your key message makes it possible for you to be as nice as possible, while still getting the job of termination done.