An Obnoxious Employee: What to Do?

An obnoxious employee can cause a workplace leader, as well as other staff members, tension, stress and hours of wasted time. What can a leader do in a situation like this? The problem is described in the following question from a business owner:

  • My office manager seems to think she owns the business. In fact, I think she resents the fact that I bought the business. We used to work together, but now I’m her employer. She does what she wants, and gets really upset when I tell her to do something my way. This has been going on for three years. I’m ready for a nervous breakdown. What can I do? I know if I fire her, she’ll file for unemployment on me, and I don’t want that.
  • This situation is similar to the experiences of many employers and supervisors. Some examples:
  • One employee (we’ll call him Sam) works in a room with six other people. Most of the time, they’re working on computers. When Sam’s computer acts up, he begins swearing and cursing. But not for just a few seconds or a minute. (Those who work with computers might relate to that!) Sam keeps up his foul-mouthing for up to 30 minutes at a time.
  • So Sam’s co-workers go to their supervisor and complain about the behavior. The supervisor’s response? “I can understand why he reacts that way.”
  • Another employee (we’ll call her Louise) works in a large, public service office. Louise and her mother live together. Some weeks ago, Louise started bringing her mother to work, because Louise couldn’t afford elder care. Her mother sits quietly in the public area. She doesn’t bother anyone. But co-workers are upset and have gone to their supervisor and complained.
  • The supervisor’s response? None. The supervisor seems to be hoping the problem will disappear.

Now back to the opening question. Like the supervisors in these two examples, you seem to be frozen by a fear of confrontation, and fear of the distasteful consequences of your decision. The employee might react badly. You might have to fight an unemployment claim. You might have to fight a wrongful discharge lawsuit.

When an employee’s behavior is disrupting the workplace, or when an employee defies a supervisor’s authority, you have only one choice: Confront the problem. Take action.

Make the very best decision you can for yourself and for your company. Then, stick with it. Often, a workplace leader’s biggest job is to make decisions. Especially disagreeable ones.