A problem employee can have a ripple effect of toxicity in a department or organization. Oftentimes, as leaders, we know the employee must be fired but are unable to gather the evidence we feel is air-tight enough to make the case. Here are a few tips for tough terminations.

3 strikes

Progressive discipline is a great idea. From the verbal warning through to the final write-up, it is clear to everyone the path being taken and the ultimate result.

However, not every challenging behavior falls into a linear path of punishment.

For example, an employee with a bad attitude may be unwilling to help teammates, have a tardiness problem and have a personality that makes him difficult to work with. While it is tangible and therefore often easier to focus on the objective issues, if we are too specific in our approach we end up with warnings for being a bad team-player, tardy or difficult and not a series of progressively strengthening write-ups for having a bad attitude.

Instead of considering the tangible actions of the employee which may result in multiple paths of write-ups, consider the tangible impact on the business.

For example, the output of the department is negatively impacted by the individual’s behaviors and as a result the employee will be warned, written up and given a final warning related to their negative impact on results as opposed to separate warnings for each problem.

Special cases

Laws exist to protect employees for good reason. However, managers and leaders often tie their own hands with the fear of firing someone in a protected class. The result can be a bad employee that gets too many chances and becomes even more impossible to let go.

When faced with this type of discipline challenge, try considering it from two other perspectives.

First, try to codify the impact on other employees. Any time an employee receives treatment that is different than her co-workers, it can create problems from anger to resentment. Leaders and managers that provide disproportionate opportunities to anyone are opening themselves up to issues with the rest of the team. Ensure treatment is fair, not skewed.

Second, consider the overall situation. For example, in cases of layoffs, employers often disregard employees that are on leave.

However, while the job of the employee on leave is protected in the case of the leave, he is not provided any additional protection against the layoff. In other words, if all salespeople are being laid off, it does not mean the salesman on leave keeps his job.

The bottom line is terminations, even in sensitive or tricky situations are possible. Laws and best practices are in place to help employers create fair working environments and support employees and their rights to fair treatment.

However, creating a workplace that allows problem employees to go unchecked helps no one. Before deciding that an employee cannot be disciplined or terminated, look at it from a different perspective, talk to an employment attorney and explore all possibilities.