Beware of Toxic Employees

Have you ever had this kind of conversation with an employee?

I had an employee named Amy who frequently procrastinated. She often externalized the blame, as shown in the dialog below:

Amy: I couldn’t send you the presentation because Tom was late giving me his latest report.

Me: Tom wasn’t the only person who had access to that report.

Amy: Well, it was Friday and no one was at the office.

Me: Don’t you have access to all the reports on the shared drive?

Amy: I didn’t think about that.

Me: I am thinking that we need to talk about how you think.

I’ve seen a lot of toxic employees in my career. Some antics were more sophisticated or entertaining than others. I want to share with you some of the worst employees. In some cases, I needed to let them go because they were too toxic to the team.

If you have a toxic employee, you need to document the situation.

Documentation provides the rationale to dismiss an employee. You can later use this documentation later in court or arbitration, if necessary. Don’t rely on your memory to recall past events. We will talk about how to document in a subsequent post.

Caveat for the business owner: you are responsible for crafting documentation on the employee rights and responsibilities. Hire a certified HR person or someone like myself who can work with you to create the documentation. If necessary, have an employment lawyer review it.

Before I begin, please know that all employees who act toxic are not necessarily toxic employees. We all have bad days and make mistakes. I’m not talking about those cases. I am talking about the cancerous, stage four fully metastasized cases. This is where their toxic behavior happened once or twice in their probational period and roared its ugly, foaming mad and mutated form by the time you finally noticed it. By then, their actions have been well known to the ire of your office.

I want you to avoid stepping into that flaming pile of dog crap. This can be solved before their behavior causes damage to office productivity or morale. But the first job is to recognize their toxic behavior from the onset. I listed each type in no particular ranking or order.

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Here is the baker’s dirty dozen list of toxic employees:

  1. The “family drama” employee. This employee doesn’t just tell you about their personal woes; they bring them into the office. Their jealous wife will constantly call the office to ask you if their “good for nothing husband” left the office with Tiffany. But who is Tiffany?
  2. The “office snitch” employee. It might seem great at first to know what’s going on in the office. But at a certain point, you may wonder how much time they spend monitoring others versus doing work.
  3. The “Jesus/Allah/Jehovah/Baal/Lucifer God will Save You” employee. There is a prophet amongst the flock who needs to convince others of their impending doom. Unless you are a faith based company, the workplace is not their mission field.
  4. The “crazy for XYZ cause” employee. The issue (e.g. Immigration, guns, or reproductive rights, recycling paper nut) is guaranteed to be divisive. Similar to The “Jesus/Allah/Jehovah/Baal/Lucifer God will Save You,” tell your zealot that they can “spread the good word” elsewhere.
  5. The “undiagnosed yet chronically ill” employee. I am not talking about someone who has verifiable doctors notes. This is the person who frequently leaves work early or calls in sick due to a flimsy health reason. Perhaps they need to find another position until their “health” improves.
  6. The “it was someone else’s fault” employee. Like my former employee Amy, they never take responsibility for their actions. Remind them that you hired them to think independently and not to blame others.
  7. The “spilt personality or Jekyll/Hyde” employee. Depending on the day you can never tell who you are dealing with. They need to leave the theatrics to the folks on Broadway or Hollywood.
  8. The “YouTube/Porn/Bandwidth Whore” employee. Even though you have restrictions, they have found a way to play Fortnite, a viral online game, on your company computer, for hours during the day! Cut this cord immediately.
  9. The “shell shocked and nostalgic former war veteran” employee. They often tell your staff about their time in operation AlphaBravo or SuperDude. Every experience reminds them about their war time. Your office is not a substitute for PTSD therapy.
  10. The “Avon, Mary Kay, or Side Hustling” employee. They need to focus on getting your company, not themselves rich during the workday.
  11. The “mean girl or boy” employee. This is the employee that creates cliques and create divisiveness among your employees. Remind them your office is not the “Big Brother” house.
  12. The “3 hour daily lunch” employee. It’s 4 o’clock and they’ve been gone for lunch since 11am. The problem is that they’ve only worked 5 hours in a 8 hour workday. Let them find somewhere else to enjoy their Margaritaville.
  13. The “I’m in the union and I know my rights" employee. AGFE, CLO, whatever the abbreviation, they frequently tell you about their collective bargaining rights. This one is tricky because they frequently threaten to rain hell down on you. If you know you are right, call their bluff. Make sure you have documented the situation and reviewed the employee rights and responsibility documentation.
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