Advice From Super Bowl 51 On How To Handle The Worst Employee Ever

Advice From Super Bowl 51 On How To Handle The Worst Employee Ever

lazy associate feet on desk ignoring partner bad employeeI am a sports fan, and while I often feel the Super Bowl is overhyped (I am a Bengals fan, after all), this year it lived up to its reputation. And there are a lot of very unhappy Atlanta Falcons fans this week, who are likely very angry at Matt Ryan, their star quarterback. He took not one, but two, sacks that likely cost Atlanta the game. And as he is an employee of the Atlanta Falcons, a lot of people are probably feeling like, right now, he’s the worst employee ever.

He is not, not by a long shot.

Last week, I wrote about the worst bosses ever. I explained why, as of now, Donald Trump does not fall into the category. This week, I decided to talk about a less popular subject: the worst employee ever. When thinking about “worst employee ever” stories, it’s startling how rarely the antics of awful employees make the headlines, or judicial opinions. And thinking back to people I’ve dealt with, how easily they move on to their next victims.

If you are a manager, you may feel like one or some of your subordinates fall into this category. The subordinate who uses up all of his annual leave by July. The employee who has sick or dead relatives all the time, as a way to get out of work and inconvenience his co-workers. The employee who rubs everyone the wrong way. The employee who is creepy. The employee who says really inappropriate things, and makes everyone uncomfortable. Believe it or not, this is typical behavior. But sometimes the employee is really really bad. Steals from the office, or physically threatens co-workers. I once sat through a rape trial where an employee allegedly raped his co-worker. His wife was there. I felt simply awful and I had nothing to do with it. However, outside of chats with your spouse or friends who don’t work with you, the average manager doesn’t say anything to anyone they don’t have to. So some of the best “worst employee” stories never see the light of day.

But employment attorneys know. Because while I can’t tell you about a specific client, and names will be changed to protect the innocent, I’ve seen some of the worst employees ever.

I’m not going to talk about any employees going through life crises (though men going through divorces seem to be particularly problematic). Employees dealing with health challenges are also often a source of consternation, but neither of these classes of employees tends to be “the worst”, and I have sympathy for both. Life happens.

No, the title of “worst” is reserved for purposeful a-holes or people who are just plain awful.

Like the employee who put a noose in his co-worker’s locker. But he worked in a retail environment, and of course there are cameras everywhere. Even caught on tape, he did his best Shaggy impersonation. Then he sued. I can’t remember why, but it was him suing and not the employee with the noose.

Or the employee who was stealing from her co-workers. She was going into their purses and taking their cash. She started with just one colleague but, as with most criminals, her crime spree increased. The employees quickly figured out who it was, and, having had enough, confronted her. She fled from the building because she was afraid they would call the police (turns out, she had done this before), then later contacted the EEOC. And completely lied about the circumstances surrounding her sudden exit. Because why not?

Or the employee who came to work with a confederate flag t-shirt. He hid it from his boss under his apron at the start of his shift. But eventually someone saw it and complained. When confronted, he went into his locker, put on his confederate flag ball cap, and said it was his “freedom of speech” to show his support to the confederacy, because his family was southern.

Or the employee who asked his supervisor out at least once a week for months. When she finally had enough and wanted to move him to another department, he claimed that a transfer would be a demotion, and he contacted the EEOC. When the company told him he wasn’t going to be moved (he had stopped asking his boss out in the interim), he began asking her out almost daily. He was terminated, and he filed a charge with the EEOC.

Or the employee who went to the board of her employer, and literally made up a story on her supervisor to get her supervisor terminated, and so she could take her role at the company. This employee had fabricated documents to support her story, including emails and client “complaints.” The board was ready to act, but the employee spelled one of the client’s names wrong in an email. They told the employee they would have to think about it, and began to investigate. Employee went about like everything was normal until she was terminated. She hired a lawyer immediately, who claimed it was a wrongful termination. For whistleblowing.

Of course, to avoid these types of situations as an employee, you need to “do your job” and not break the law (yes, I just quoted Belichick). For example, if you decide you would like to date someone at work, it’s probably a good idea to make sure the feeling is mutual before you make a move. And if you don’t know how to make sure the feeling is mutual, you shouldn’t date at work.

But what do you do if you have an employee who is truly the worst employee ever?

  1. Prepare to terminate their employment.  Almost every state is an at-will state (Montana employers, proceed more carefully). You should prepare to fire them (statements from coworkers, documentation, etc). And then you should just fire them. Nothing is as big of a drag on morale as a terrible employee. I’ve had some not-so-great co-workers, and one assistant who was quite bad (she asked me to do her work for her). I had a paralegal who was never at work, and an associate I briefly trained who I had questions about. A lot of questions. I even had my lunch stolen by a lunch thief (who was habitual and who was an attorney, and who stole lunches from assistants, and so made even the partners (she was a very senior associate) very upset). Even these small inconveniences were a drag on morale. I’ve seen truly awful employees cause good employees to leave in droves. No one wants to deal with that.
  2. Be more rigorous in your hiring process. Bad employees start out as questionable hires. Empower your HR front line to be honest with you. Get consensus during the process, and don’t assign too much weight to one person’s input. Furthermore, take references seriously. If you want to know “fit,” it isn’t just whether the person comes off “as just like you” during the half-day interview. Anyone can fake it for a few hours. Ask their references about their personality and character. Make it a point to hire good people.
  3. Prepare for a lawsuit.  I wish I had better news, but I know about all of these awful people because they filed EEOC charges, lawsuits, or both. Terrible employees do not care about reality; they care only about themselves. When you realize you have a bad one on your hands (because they are torturing their supervisor with professions of love (this happened with a female employee too, who allegedly stopped wearing undergarments to be enticing to her married boss, but I never was able to confirm that or be sure the guy wasn’t lying, as he later slept with her, and it was a huge mess), or literally putting feces on someone (I am still not true if this allegation was true)), they are likely so far gone they will still think the termination isn’t fair. So be prepared, get your employment attorney up to speed, and recognize that this is sometimes the unfortunate cost of doing business.

If you find you have a true terror of the workplace, you want to get rid of them as soon as possible. But I can say from experience, truly nightmare employees rarely go without a fight. Unlike the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of Super Bowl 51.

Earlier: No, Donald Trump Is Not The Worst Boss Ever
The Victims In An Employment Case

beth-robinsonBeth Robinson lives in Denver and is a business law attorney and employment law guru. She practices at Fortis Law Partners. You can reach her at and follow her on Twitter at @HLSinDenver.


Published at Tue, 07 Feb 2017 23:39:38 +0000

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