How to Deal with a Problem Employee

Published on July 31, 2018


Ahhh… a problem employee.

While one of your team members may not be a bad person, they CAN be a bad employee.

So what do you do about it?

You should identify the issue, then assess if you need to coach them...or can them. And if firing them is the right move, you’ll need to do it the right way.

First, and foremost…

If you have specific questions on terminating an employee, it’s best you seek the advice of an employment law professional (an attorney or human resources consultant). Each HR issue is specific to the size of your company, type of company, state in which you do business, etc.

The goal of this blog is to give you a few recommendations as a starting point when dealing with employee issues. It’s not to be taken as legal advice.

Read on as we walk you through some pointers with insights from Jason Cupp, a leading Human Resources consultant with specialties in the lawn care and landscaping industry. Jason has guided all types of services businesses through both big and small HR issues.

How to Identify a Problem Employee

You try to be the perfect boss, and yet your employees still go rogue.

Even the most successful business owners have to occasionally deal with problematic employees.

So what you should you look out for when it comes to problem areas? Here are a few recommendations:

  • Are they continually late?
  • Do they constantly call out sick?
  • Have they ever “no showed” for a job?
  • Do they hurt your company’s morale or bring other employees down?
  • Do you suspect any type of drug or alcohol use? If so, this could be a HUGE liability for you if an incident happens while they are working.
  • Does your new hire really have the experience they say they do?
  • Did they steal from a client, or speak disrespectfully to one?
  • Did they steal from you?
  • Did you catch them bad mouthing you, other team members, or the company?
  • Did they start a physical fight with another employee?
  • Are they lazy on the job or just not doing a good enough job?

The Best Process for Dealing with Your Worst Employees

You found the problem… and the problem employee. Now how do you address it?

  • Make sure you gather all the facts. The last thing you want to do is falsely accuse someone.
  • You could speak with the individual. (For sensitive conversations, it’s best to make sure you have another manager or HR professional present, otherwise, make sure your conversation is private and not in front of other co-workers.)
  • Address the situation frankly but with compassion.
  • Allow them to explain their side of the story.

Once you have all the facts, you’ll have to decide your next move. Depending on your specific business situation, possible ways of handling a problematic employee issue could be:

If You Write Up Employees...

Provide written documentation to your employee with a detailed account of the events and advice for corrective action.

Be sure to have your employee sign any write ups. “If they refuse, tell them to write ‘I refuse to sign this’ at the bottom and have them write their name (not a signature),” states Jason. “This document, and it’s signature, or it’s refusal to sign will cover your liability significantly.”

Written documentation is super important for you as a business owner. You’ll want to document EVERYTHING. Should that employee ever question your decisions, you’ll have all of the dates, times, and incidents listed in their file.

If You Put an Employee on Probation...

A probationary period would last a certain amount of time such as one week, 30-days, etc. This means they have that amount of time to correct their behavior. Once the probation is over, you would re-evaluate your employee and give them a status update. If they are doing great, let them know it!

UNLESS… it’s something HUGE

There are a few extreme circumstances that could possibly lead you to firing an employee.

Hopefully you’ve built zero tolerance policies into your Employee Handbook and your employees have signed off on the handbook. The handbook shows that you mean business and have already warned them that certain actions won’t be tolerated.

A HUGE zero tolerance action could be any of the following:

  • Drinking or using drugs while on the job
  • Starting a physical fight with a client, a co-worker, or you
  • Use of inappropriate or offensive language with you, a client, or a vendor, either in person or over the phone
  • Extreme insubordination
  • No-shows for more than 1 day

If an employee commits a zero tolerance act, you should consider immediately removing the employee from the field, but only if those are outlined in your Handbook.

Make sure you extensively document the situation. Write down:

  • What occurred
  • Date and time it happened
  • Where it happened
  • Who was there
  • Any conversations you had with the employee or other employees who witnessed the event

“If you have proof, the liability is significant,” Jason explains. “IF you have a handbook that says you can terminate them for what they did (i.e. drinking on the job), then you can fire them.”

A Few Tips when Firing an Employee

There are definitely a few things to consider when firing a problem employee such as:

  • Make sure you’re firing for just cause
  • Stick to the facts and choose your words carefully
  • Be honest
  • Have everything documented
  • Have an employee handbook
  • Communicate all legal requirements

If they are working on a Visa…

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are specific actions you must take should you terminate someone who is a H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker. You typically have only 2 days to notify USCIS.

There are additional pieces of information that you must include with your notification to USCIS. You can find those details, along with contact information, on the USCIS website.


Don’t be afraid to fire someone if it’s truly warranted.

Remember: keeping a problem employee on staff could cause you a BIG headache down the line. They could get into even more trouble if they continue to stay out in the field and bring your business to a grinding halt if they step too far out of line.

Don’t let this one problem cause 10 more for you and your business.

Related: Motivate Lawn Care Employees All Year Long

Lisa Marino

Lisa Marino is the Sr. Marketing Director for Service Autopilot. She uses her 17+ years in direct marketing, sales, and product development to push entrepreneurs beyond their limits. She's passionate about helping others grow their businesses through time-tested marketing techniques. When not writing, you can find her belting out a mean Stevie Nicks at a local karaoke night.


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