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Letting go of an employee can be a difficult decision, especially when you are so emotionally invested in your team. But holding on to the wrong employee can bring down the entire organization — impacting customers, reputations, and your bottom line.

If you start noticing any of the following signs of a bad employee, start keeping a record of all the facts and details. Your documentation will support your choice to terminate the employee.

  1. Graffiti Greta 

During a routine review of video surveillance, a manager was seen vandalizing the elevator wall with a permanent marker. When Greta was shown the video, she said “I don’t remember doing that.” Even though the person in the video was unquestionably Greta, she continued her claim of “not remembering.” Graffiti Greta was terminated for vandalism and dishonesty.

Whether intended or not, graffiti, vandalism, and damaging company property is an immediate fireable offense. Just make sure that when you do accuse an employee of such an offense, you have the evidence to back it up.

  1. Baked Ben

There were some concerns about Ben already, but one day he came back after lunch reeking of marijuana. When questioned by the supervisor, Ben admitted to smoking on his lunch break. Even though Ben apologized and promised not to do it again, he is terminated for violating the company’s drug policy.

Drug and alcohol use will interfere with on-the-job performance. Employees who violate the drug and alcohol policy should be subject to discipline, up to and including termination.

  1. Late Lisa

Lisa always has an excuse. Not only is she late to work, she often misses her deadlines. Since she’s likable and talented, you ignored the problem at first. You sent her a message or two to arrive on time, and it worked — for a week or so. But after multiple messages and suggestions, the problem is only getting worse. After a client complains about missed deadlines, you know it’s time to fire Late Lisa.

Everyone is late once in a while, but habitual tardiness is unacceptable. No matter how likable or talented someone is, if they are repeatedly late for work, immediate actions need to be taken.

Ignoring or accepting chronic tardiness can cause resentment, lower team morale, and damage company work ethic. In order to nip this problem in the bud, develop a procedure for dealing with tardiness.

  1. Document all the rules and make sure you have a reasonable lateness policy in place. Lateness policies can be couched in Absence Management or Time and Attendance sections.
  2. Warn the employee that the rules apply to him or her just like everyone else. You may want to develop a Progressive Discipline Policy, which involves:
    • Establishing Initial Expectations
    • Verbal Warning/Coaching
    • Written Warning/Coaching
    • Final Written Warning
    • Termination
  3. Use a Web-Based Time and Attendance System to make time and labor management a lot easier.

Make sure you discuss the matter with the employee to determine the issue isn’t related to any legally protected status. For example, if the employee or family member has a serious health condition, leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (if eligible) may be warranted. Additionally, an analysis under the Americans with Disability Act may be necessary.

If there is widespread employee lateness, consider holding a brief meeting to highlight the impact of tardiness and go through the company’s procedures for dealing with it. Answer any questions and begin to implement the policy in a fair and consistent manner.

  1. Sticky-Fingers Sam

During a routine audit, an employer noticed over $20,000 in missing deposits. After reviewing the transaction history, it became clear that one manager was working every time the missing deposits occurred. When questioned about the missing deposits, Sam apologized and admitted to taking the money for “personal issues.” Despite offering to replace the money as soon as possible, Sticky-Fingers Sam was terminated on the spot.

There is no progressive discipline policy for major violations, such as vandalism and theft. Substance abuse, bringing a weapon to the office, vandalism, theft, and fraud are all offenses that may necessitate immediate dismissal. There should be a thorough investigation of the accusation. If evidence establishes guilt, termination is likely warranted. All employees should sign an employee handbook acknowledging that they know the penalty for violating such policies.

Causes for Immediate Termination

For many employee problems, you’ll want to initiate a Progressive Discipline Policy or Performance Improvement Plan. In many cases, however, immediate termination is the only option:

  • Endangering employees
  • All forms of theft and fraud
  • Criminal acts
  • Negligence, leaking confidential information, and giving false information
  • Sexual harassment
  • Exceedingly poor work performance
  • Inappropriate use of company resources

Before you terminate an employee, go over all the associated documentation, contact your legal counsel or HR representative, and make sure your case is supported by the evidence.

  1. Drama Drew

Drew thrives on drama. He talks negatively about people behind their backs and gossips about things that are none of his business. He stirs the pot and then sits back to watch it boil over.

When Drama Drew is out of the office, everyone is happier and more productive. It’s time to dismiss Drew permanently and start to heal the harm he has caused.

Toxic personalities like Drama Drew can harm the entire organization. You want a strong leader who encourages their fellow employees, not a busybody who spreads gossip and picks arguments.

Here are some toxic personality traits to keep on the lookout for:

  • Know-it-alls
  • Narcissists
  • Stubborn, narrow minds
  • Downers (pernicious negativity)
  • Apathy and passivity
  • Constant excuses and pointing the finger
  • Hyper-emotional and dramatic
  • Controlling and overbearing

Don’t let a bad personality drag everyone down. If progressive discipline doesn’t work, it’s time to terminate.


In most cases, the termination decision will not be as “clear cut ” as those depicted above. As such, it is important to approach the termination decision carefully. Investigate the misconduct, identify the exact policy violation, and determine whether termination is warranted based on the identified circumstances and the company’s past practices.

Before you terminate an employee, go over all the associated documentation, contact your legal counsel or HR representative, and make sure your case is supported by the evidence. It’s important to conduct an analysis of any potential “red flags” (e.g. protected class, possible retaliation, recent workers’ compensation injury, recent leave of absence, etc.) relating to the employee that can potentially expose you company to a lawsuit.

No matter what your reasons are for firing an employee, it’s important to maintain your cool and establish a basic protocol when it comes to firing employees.

When it’s time to terminate an employee, do it right. Employment-related suits have been on the rise. The best way to win these cases is by avoiding them entirely. Speak with Resourcing Edge for more information on how to protect yourself from employment related lawsuits.

You CANNOT Terminate an Employee for Unlawful Reasons:

  • Title VII Discrimination
  • Pregnancy
  • Retaliation
  • Whistleblower
  • FMLA
  • ADA
  • ADEA
  • State anti-discrimination laws with additional worker protections (e.g., pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious dress, obesity)
  • Workers’ compensation retaliation

Making the Hard Decision

  • Review your documentation — go through the pre-termination checklist.
  • Look out for red flags, such as leave of absence, workplace complaint, protected class, etc.
  • Prepare to tell the employee.
  • Avoid firing an employee on the spot.

Pre-Termination Checklist

  • Identify the lawful, non-discriminatory cause(s) and/or specific reasonable rule or policy violation. Collect and document all of the facts.
  • Make sure your reasons and facts are proven and corroborated. Confirm a fair investigation.
  • Review the employee file for any prior documented disciplinary action.
  • Has the rule or policy violation been applied fairly and consistently?

The following webinar covers how to properly document and discipline behavior fairly and consistently:

Don’t feel guilty about firing a bad employee. If someone is violating your policies and not correcting their behavior, it’s time to let them go.

Still, the termination decision can be difficult and fraught with potential legal issues. For questions or assistance with hiring and firing, contact Resourcing Edge at (214) 771-4411.

Shellie Rich

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