How To Deal With A Bad Employee

Posted May 20, 2019, by Elesha

Bad at their job, or just a bad egg? Dealing with a bad employee whether a constant troublemaker or an underperformer is an inevitable part of every leader’s role and one that must be handled carefully. Get it wrong and you risk your team’s morale, your reputation, and the organisation’s bottom line.

Toxic employee vs poor performer

The toxic personality

The rotten apple spoils his companion – Benjamin Franklin

Toxic behaviour of a bad employee must be tackled head-on before it spreads and derails the whole team.  A few tell-tale signs you have a toxic employee in the midst include –

  • They thrive on gossip and a negative attitude about the organisation and coworkers
  • Bullying and harassing other team members
  • Constantly slacking off –  taking sick days and arriving late
  • Continually trying to undermine authority
  • “That’s not my job” – shirking responsibility and blaming others
  • Spending too much time on social media and personal activities at work

A note on workplace bullying – When it comes to addressing a bad employee who is a bully, you may end up dealing with it in court if you don’t respond quickly to observations and complaints by other team members. Under the Fair Work Commission, any employee can apply for an order to stop the bullying.

The poor performer

In some cases, your bad employee may not be a toxic person but is incompetent or overwhelmed and just can’t seem to get the job done. Here are a few signs someone is struggling in their role:

  • They’re unfamiliar with the software or equipment needed to do their job
  • Productivity is an issue; even if they are working long hours
  • The quality of work is inconsistent
  • Taking regular sick days – often a sign of overwhelm
  • Often emotional or defensive

Whether you’re dealing with a toxic employee, an incompetent employee or a mixture of both, it’s important to take action quickly.

Present facts and examples

Sticking to the facts and examples of toxic behaviour or poor performance is important during discussions with a bad employee. Make notes (actual notes, not mental ones) of situations where you’ve observed their toxic behaviour. Be specific with the details and include the date of the situation.  

If an employee is underperforming, note missed deadlines, poor project results, or failed compliance.

Present these examples at the performance discussion. Having clear facts puts you in an objective position for the discussion, it’s not based on hearsay and emotions.

Hear their side of the story

When you’ve presented the examples, it’s time to dig deeper and find out if there are underlying issues causing their behaviour. Give them a chance to speak up.

Are they unhappy or stressed out in the job? Having issues with coworkers? Or perhaps struggling with an issue at home? If the red ‘bad employee’ flags have only been recent, something may have triggered the behaviour.

Put the responsibility back on them

Outline clear, measurable action steps the employee can take to turn things around and a timeline for change.

Pointing out what they stand to lose if they’re behavior continues can be an extra motivation to improve behaviour; possible loss of a bonus, promotion or any flexible working arrangements they have. If it is in line with company policy, you may choose to put the employee on probation which will emphasise the importance of improving their performance or risk dismissal.

Identify where extra training is needed

If it’s more of a case of incompetence with the bad employee rather than a toxic personality, take quick steps to identify skills gaps. Put together a development action plan to help them raise the bar on performance with clear milestones.

A note on unfair dismissal – According to Fair Work Commission’s Small Business Fair Dismissal Code, an employee must be warned verbally or preferably in writing that he or she risks being dismissed if there is no improvement. They must have the opportunity to respond to the warning and have a reasonable chance to rectify the problem.

Time to fire your bad employee?

It’s incredible how quickly one bad employee’s negative behaviour can seep in and affect everyone else. Don’t put off making a tough decision for too long! If a toxic employee is also a high performer they shouldn’t be given any special treatment or sway you from acting in line with company values.

For the incompetent employee, meet together for frequent performance reviews once the training plan is in place.

Document the meetings and evidence to support the progress – or lack of. If standards don’t improve quickly, dismissal is the best option. Poor standards lead to unhappy customers, operational inefficiencies and resentful team members who are continually picking up the slack.

Whether firing a bad employee for a toxic attitude or incompetence you’ll need to consider the terms of their contract and keep your actions in line with Australian laws for dismissing employees. A misstep here can result in unfair dismissal or an issue with payment of entitlements and land you and the organisation in legal hot water.

Contact your Human Resources department for guidance, a company termination checklist and paperwork required for completion.

If you are a small business owner without a HR representative or partner, be sure to check out the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman website for the correct steps to take to dismiss a bad employee.


Academy Xi
ACBI (Australian College of Business Intelligence)
AIBI Higher Education
AIM Business School
ALC Training
Australasian College of Health and Wellness
Australian College of Physical Education
Australian Institute of Business
Australian Institute of Management Education and Training
Australian Institute of Personal Trainers
Billy Blue College of Design
Builders Academy Australia
Building and Construction Training Australia
Celtic Training
Collaboration Learning
College for Adult Learning
Demi International
Ducere Global Business School
Ella Bache College
Endeavour College of Natural Health
Foundation Education
Gateway Training Academy
GROW Training Group
Hader Institute of Education
Hammond Institute
Industry Skills Training
Insight Training
James Cook University Online
La Trobe University
Lumify Learn
MCI Institute
Melbourne College of Further Education
Monarch Institute
Monash College Future Skills
National Business Institute of Australia
Nepean Industry Edge Training
Onfit Training College
Open Colleges
Original Campus
Outsource Institute
Parker Brent
Pet Stylist Academy
Phillips Institute
RMIT Online
Sero Institute
Serve It Up
The Hotel School
The Institute of Applied Psychology
Torrens University Australia
University of Adelaide
University of the Sunshine Coast
UNSW Online
UTS Online
Victoria University Online
Torrens University Australia
Torrens University Australia
University of East London
Southern Cross University