How to Fire an Employee With a Bad Attitude

Sometimes employees are always punctual and do a good job but have a bad attitude. They are careful with open criticism for managers and supervisors, but spread rumors and covertly undermine management. They are generally unlikable, and their negativity is affecting the workplace. These can be difficult situations to maneuver as these employees generally do a good job aside from their attitude. However, it is possible to terminate employees with a bad attitude.

Before firing an employee, consult with an attorney to ensure you do not put your company at risk for legal action. Every situation for firing an employee is unique. This article is for general information. We invite you to read our Disclaimer page.

Firing for attitude can be difficult to pull off as the vague language can leave openings for lawsuits. A bad attitude can affect workplace morale and affect the productivity of other employees.

You should only fire an employee for a bad attitude if you cannot fix the issue. After all, the employee is doing a good job otherwise. Below are common questions for firing an employee with a bad attitude:

What is the starting point for HR when considering terminating an employee with a bad attitude?

Consider how a bad attitude is exhibited. Define exactly how the employee’s attitude is bad because you will have to defend your decision if it comes to a claim or lawsuit. You need to note how the employee’s communication or actions is inappropriate.

What action should HR take once they’ve defined the inappropriate behavior?

Investigate and see if there are customer or colleague complaints about the employee’s bad attitude. This will help you to provide evidence that the employee’s behavior is bad for the business.

Is it difficult to fire an employee because of their bad attitude?

It can be difficult to fire an employee because of their attitude. If an employer works in the public sector, it can be seen as interfering with the employee’s rights to free speech.

What are the implications of bad attitude being displayed as speech?

If the employee’s bad attitude is due to things they are saying, you need to investigate it to see what is offensive. Speech is protected by the constitution, so tread carefully.

What if the speech complaints are discriminatory in nature and you can prove it’s affecting other workers?

The exceptions to constitutional rights to free speech are obscene language or language intended to provoke. Discriminatory behavior and harassment are also not protected under the right to free speech. If you can prove that the bad attitude is those kinds of speech and there are employee complaints, then you can discipline your employee.

What kind of lawsuits can arise from firing for attitude?

If the employee is a protected class, there will be a harassment lawsuit claiming the employer was disciplining too harshly due to that protected class.

How can you prevent a lawsuit?

Follow a set discipline structure that applies to all employees. Give warnings, and formal warnings as your policies require.

What should HR do when wanting to terminate an employee with a bad attitude?

Check the company rules and policies to see if the employee has broken any guidelines on the treatment of colleagues and customers. These will often provide a discipline structure that you can use. You must express to the employee that their behavior was unacceptable and keep a record of warnings, disciplines, and discussions.

What should HR document?

Keep a record of any complaints of their behavior and let your employee know that there have been complaints. Give your employee ways to correct their behavior and evaluate them over a set period of time. If an immediate correction is required, then shorten the time frame to two weeks or 30 days depending on the complaint.

What if the bad attitude is harassment?

You should have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment as otherwise, it could leave you open to lawsuits from the harassed party. Investigate the incident and give the employee a formal warning. Be clear that if the behavior continues, they will be dismissed immediately.

What if there are other issues?

If along with the bad attitude the employee is under performing or constantly late to work, then you should focus on those matters. Address specific issues and be clear about the unacceptable behavior and why you are disciplining them.

How should I conduct the termination?

Do not mention the phrase bad attitude. Instead, address the specific behavior that is causing the termination and its impact on the workplace. Do not disclose the reason for the termination to other employees, it is unnecessary in most cases.

What if the employee is a protected class?

It is important to investigate the complaints to ensure they are not a form of discrimination. Ensure the “bad attitude” is not a cultural bias or misunderstanding. Also, you must handle the complaints and discipline in the same way as you for any other employee. If you can show those things, proceed as normal.

Should I handle things differently for a unionized employee?

If your employee is a member of a union, it may be more difficult to terminate them for a bad attitude. You will have to prove that it is affecting your workplace and follow the discipline laid out in the bargaining agreement.

What if they are a model employee aside from their unpleasantness and a difficult attitude?

Investigate who the employee is not getting along with. If it is the supervisor, you may need to address the problem right away. The supervisor will evaluate the employee differently regardless of their work output. This could lead to future problems and cause the problem to be blown out of proportion.

If it is co-workers that do not like them, then look into the issue. Is there any specific behavior that is causing this, or is it just matter of opinion? Unfortunately, some people are just a little different and rub people the wrong way. You cannot discipline someone because their team don’t like them, especially if they are cooperating with their colleagues and working well.

What other considerations should I make?

If a long-serving employee suddenly exhibits a bad attitude, there may be an underlying reason. Consult with an attorney as under some laws you may not be able to ask them about it. However, offering counselling or the Employee Assistance Plan may help.

You can call a meeting with them to discuss the problems they are having at work. In this meeting, you can ask for an explanation and check if they need assistance. Let them know that the conversation is confidential. If they are a long-serving employee with a good track record, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.