Employees are fired for a variety of reasons, including continual violations of company policies or egregious acts that require immediate dismissal. At-will employment gives small businesses broad authority to fire employees, so long as the termination isn’t for a discriminatory reason. Below, we’ll briefly discuss the top fireable offenses for small businesses.
1. Poor Work Performance
The top fireable offense for an employee’s termination is one that often builds up over time. While an employee could be terminated on the spot, ending the employment relationship for poor work performance is better done through a progressive discipline policy, a key component of your employee management process.
Poor work performance could include repeatedly missing deadlines, failing to meet goals, failing to successfully complete a performance improvement plan (PIP), and many other work performance issues. In certain circumstances, however, an employee’s performance could be so poor and disruptive that it requires immediate termination. It is a fireable offense for an employee to perform poorly at work because it represents an inability to handle the responsibilities of the role.
2. Falsifying Business Records
Employees may be authorized to create and sign company documents. Falsifying these documents, however, creates a risk for your entire organization. An employee may change their time sheet or falsify company financial statements to hide stolen funds.
In extreme cases, falsifying documents could lead to physical injury or death of employees or customers. Immediately terminate an employee who falsifies company documents.
Insubordination occurs when an employee disregards a manager’s instructions. While not always grounds for immediate termination, it certainly is grounds for disciplinary action.
When a manager disciplines an employee for insubordination, the conversation can quickly become tense. Managers with stellar people management skills should be able to direct the conversation toward improving the employee’s behavior. If insubordination occurs frequently or disrupts company operations, it may become cause for termination.
4. Taking Too Much Time Off
You give your employees time off to use, both company holidays and as paid time off (PTO). But some employees abuse their PTO, taking extended vacations that leave their colleagues shouldering the burden of their absence.
Some employees may abuse company policy and take time off when it’s not approved in advance, faking an illness, or simply not coming to work. A single incident might not result in termination, but repeated documented offenses can be grounds for termination.
5. Unethical Conduct
Unethical conduct covers a wide range of employee behavior, from lying and dishonesty to fraud and theft. Employees may neglect their work or may even lie to clients. You should not tolerate unethical behavior.
Behaviors like these are not only detrimental to your business, but they can also demoralize other employees. It is important for small businesses to take action when they observe unethical employee conduct, which may include dismissal.
6. Tardiness and Absences
When employees do not show up on time or routinely call out, that creates a snowball effect for the rest of your team, which has to pick up the slack or cover shifts. While verbal or written warnings may address infrequent absences and tardiness, if an employee makes a habit of calling out sick, you may have a legitimate reason to terminate them.
Depending on your company policies, an employee who does not show up for work for three consecutive days may be deemed to have abandoned their job. In this case, you could end the employment relationship, pursuant to your employee attendance policy.
7. Violating Company Policies
Your small business took great care to create policies that align with your company values and ensure that your employees give you efficient and productive work. Part of that includes treating colleagues with respect and adhering to your company standards.
Some company policies are required because of industry and governmental regulations. In the construction industry, for example, companies might require employees to wear steel-toed shoes. If an employee violates this policy, it could result in discipline not because the company is looking for a reason to terminate an employee, but because the employee is ignoring safety regulations. If the employee continues to violate the policy and the company has documented the repeated violation, it may have legitimate grounds for termination.
8. Inappropriate Social Media Posts
Many people use their social media accounts to vent about their employers. However, this can create a negative image of your business and even result in the sharing of confidential information. While you cannot restrict what your employees post on their personal social media accounts, their posts can have consequences for their employment.
If your company has a social media policy, it should prohibit employees from disparaging the company or other employees and from releasing confidential information. If an employee violates this policy, you are well within your rights to terminate them.
9. Inappropriate Computer Usage
Company property, like computers, should be used for work-related purposes only. Even if you have employees who work remotely and you send them a computer to use, you expect them to use it for business purposes only.
Employees deserve a break during the day, but you can reasonably expect that they will not use the company computer excessively for their own personal use, especially inappropriate or illegal uses. Your company may have a legitimate reason to terminate an employee if they are using their computer for non-work purposes.
10. Bad Cultural Fit
The hiring manager is often focused on the skills of an applicant and fails to ensure that the applicant is aligned with your company culture. Since a small business has fewer employees, a cultural fit is crucial.
To achieve the company’s goals, your employees need to understand them and be willing to work hard for them by being a team player. If you have an employee who isn’t finding their groove or aligning with your company culture, it might be time to move on. Despite the difficulty of terminating a new hire, it gets your company closer to finding the right employee.
11. Infectious Negativity
For some employees, you can do nothing right, and they’re always having a bad day. They make negative comments in meetings, are disruptive, and try to get other employees to join their negativity.
Negativity spreads like wildfire in small businesses, and you must stop it immediately. An isolated incident may not warrant termination, but repeated and documented instances of negativity in the workplace can.
12. Lying on a Resume
Often you won’t discover this problem until months after hiring the employee. Some job applicants lie about their titles or experience on their resume. Maybe you hired an employee in a management role to supervise other team members. Their resume exhibited significant management skills.
Within a few months, it becomes abundantly clear that they have never managed people before. Because you hired them based on false information, you are justified in terminating their employment.
13. Workplace Violence
Violence at work makes for an especially dangerous situation. Inevitably, we will disagree with our colleagues. A passionate conversation, however, differs greatly from screaming, yelling, or physical violence.
You expect your employees to act professionally and, when they don’t, you need to take prompt action. Whether an employee brings a weapon to work or gets into a physical altercation with another employee, immediate termination should result.
14. Sexual Harassment
A range of statistics show that significant percentages of women (and men) report being sexually harassed at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) generally receives around 7,000 sexual harassment charges annually (nearly 6,600 in 2020). When an employee engages in sexual harassment of a colleague or someone they supervise, that creates a toxic environment for every employee.
While you don’t have a legal requirement to terminate an employee who engages in sexual harassment, it is probably in your company’s best interest not to delay removing the employee. Ongoing sexual harassment not only creates a dangerous work environment, but it also opens your company up to employee lawsuits.
15. Theft of Company Property
When you hire employees, you do a background check on them and you expect they will not steal from you. Unfortunately, some people don’t always act scrupulously. Employees may steal merchandise, cash, or intellectual property.
The moment you know an employee has stolen from your company, document the incident and terminate the employee. You may even consider filing a claim against them to recover your losses.
16. Racial Discrimination
Racial discrimination at work is a serious issue, so much so that the EEOC will fine companies up to $300,000, depending on the size of the business. Whether an employee makes a racial comment or an employee is passed over for promotion because of their race, your business could face steep fines.
Racial discrimination at work creates a hostile work environment for all employees, not just the direct victims. Promoting an accepting and open culture can discourage this type of behavior. However, if you learn of an employee who is engaging in racial discrimination, you must take immediate action, including possible termination.
17. Illegal Drug Use
When an employee uses drugs at work, it can place everyone in danger, including them. It can also cause lost productivity and decrease employee morale. Illegal drug use will justify an immediate termination.
Even using legal drugs at work, like alcohol, could result in immediate termination of an offending employee. Alcohol abuse costs U.S. businesses nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in lost productivity. Small businesses have a right and a duty to restrict both legal and illegal drug use at work. Violations of that policy should result in termination.
No one enjoys firing other people, but it is often necessary. As long as there is no discrimination against a protected class, employment at-will gives small businesses broad discretion to terminate employees for any or no reason. Dishonesty, negativity, and illegal activity disrupt your workplace and reduce productivity. To keep your business growing, you must take prompt action, including firing offending employees.