Should you Fire a Coworker for Making an Honest Mistake?

A while back my hairdresser accidentally cut my ear. It was just a small cut and I hardly felt it but since cuts in ears have a tendency to bleed a lot my hairdresser felt really bad and almost starting crying.

After having driven home with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand holding a towel to my ear (it’s hard to drive a stick that way), why wife went into conniptions and while she tried stopping the bleeding she demanded that I find a new hairdresser.

“Why would I do that?”, I asked.

“Well, obviously this one is highly incompetent. And she even made you pay 100 DKK for this mess”.

I said: “I am not going to find a new hairdresser. I just invested 100 DKK to be absolutely sure that this hairdresser will never cut my ear again.”

So far I have been right. The nice little scar on my ear reminds my hairdresser to be extra careful and thorough :-).

Once in a while you read about developers being fired for making honest although massive bugs. The question is: Is it the right thing to fire people?

Personally, I think it is the wrong thing to do. Making an honest mistake is not enough to get you fired.

But it all depends on how you handle that mistake. If the person who made the mistake steps up to the plate, takes responsibility and does everything he or she can to fix it and learn from it, then you as a company will not get a better co-worker by firing and hiring somebody else. The new guy might even make the same mistake. It’s also very likely that the mistake happened because the processes in your company are not good enough.

What do you think is the right thing to do?