5 Signs It’s Time to Let Go of an Employee and How to Do It

Firing an employee go can be a difficult decision. Every hire is an investment of time, energy, and capital. While you may wish poor performing employees would just quit, often that just doesn’t happen.

5 Signs It’s Time to Let Go of an Employee and How to Do It

Smart hiring and firing is crucial to limit liability and maintain employee morale. The costs of a bad hire are huge. Holding on to the wrong employee can bring down the entire organization and impact customers, reputations, and your bottom line.

If you start noticing any of the following behaviors, keep a detailed record. Your documentation will support your choice to terminate the employee.

  1. Property Damage

Whether intended or not, graffiti, vandalism, and damaging company property can be a terminating offense. Your employee handbook should say so. Just make sure that if you accuse an employee of such an offense, you have the evidence to back it up.

  1. Substance Abuse

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. Attendance

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 try 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 occasionally, but habitual tardiness is unacceptable. No matter how likable or talented someone is, if 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. To nip this problem in the bud, develop a procedure for dealing with tardiness.


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.  In addition, 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. Theft

Instances of employee theft, including fraud and embezzlement, may require termination.  An investigation of the allegations should be conducted and evidence reviewed carefully.  If the evidence establishes guilt, termination is likely warranted. 

  1. Toxic Personalities

Toxic personalities that gossip, engage in negative talk, and spread dissent can harm the entire organization. You want strong leaders who encourage their fellow employees, not people who spread gossip and pick arguments with you or your co-workers.

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

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

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:


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.


Most terminations are not clear cut. 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 terminating any employee, it is critical that you 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 this employee that can potentially expose your 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 terminating employees.

When it’s time to terminate an employee, do it right to lessen legal liability. Depending on the circumstances, it may be best to consult an attorney. 

You CANNOT Terminate an Employee for Unlawful Reasons:

Making the Hard Decision

Pre-Termination Checklist

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 may be time to terminate.

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.