The 7 Top Reasons People Get Fired

Get ahead of the top employment issues before it requires terminating a member of your staff.
Firing employees can effect your entire business. Get ahead by understanding the most common reasons for firing employees, and see if you can stop these trends before they even get started. (Photo: George Rudy/Shutterstock)

Employee termination can be devastating to the affected employee, but it can have a big impact on your business as well. Firing an employee can negatively influence overall company morale, and a high turnover rate can be a sign of unhappy employees, and consequently, an unhealthy business.

By knowing the most common reasons people lose their jobs, you can help protect your business by getting ahead of an issue before it requires terminating an employee. Jana Tulloch, who manages HR at technical training firm DevelopIntelligence, provided insight into the top seven reasons for firing someone and how to appropriately deal with issue — before it becomes a problem.

Related: How to Fire Someone When it’s Time to Terminate

According to Jana Tulloch, HR manager at DevelopIntelligence, lying is one of the main reasons for terminating employees. (Photo: Jana Tulloch)

1. Dishonesty

According to Tulloch, lying is one of the top culprits for terminating an employee. When one of your staffers tries to lie his or her way out of a situation, it breaks the business owner’s trust, which can be difficult to get back.

“You can mess up, but you need to fess up,” she said.

So how can you tell when an employee is being dishonest with you? Tulloch advised watching for a few telltale signs: “A lack of ownership of issues, inconsistent messages, or gaps in information are some of the clues that individuals may be less than forthright with you.”

2. Poor performance

When an employee joins your organization, it’s important to clearly communicate your expectations and his or her deliverables. It is harder for an employee to navigate goals if it is unclear what those goals are. If you don’t have expectations written out for your employees yet, make sure you establish and communicate them as soon as possible.

And since job duties often vary or evolve over time, make sure you keep goals and measurable tasks up to date. If an employee’s role has shifted and no longer matches their job description or scope of work, it can be more difficult to demand accountability if you feel he or she is underperforming.

Related: Why Job Performance Reviews Are Important for Your Small Business

3. Insubordination

Employees need to follow the directions given to them, even if they don’t like or agree with the business owner’s decision.

“Sometimes insubordination is subtler, and an employee agrees to follow a certain course but undermines your ability to follow through,” Tulloch said. “Look for subtle messages that an employee is sabotaging your efforts through delays or other forms of resistance.”

4. Harassment

Dealing with harassment and other inappropriate situations can be very challenging, as offending employees can often view their behavior as acceptable. This is another area where clear, written guidelines must be defined and communicated, said Tulloch. Continued unwanted behaviors are grounds for dismissal.

Related: What Every Business Owner Should Know About Office Romances

5. Theft of time or items


One common type of theft — time theft — can be difficult to spot. Pay attention to employees with consistent tardiness or pattern absences. (Photo: FeSeven/Shutterstock)

Time theft is when someone is knowingly paid for time they did not work. This can range from consistent tardiness, to excessive breaks or calling in sick when they are not.

“Clues to this type of theft are pattern absences, like regularly taking the same day sick,” she said.

Unfortunately, theft can sometimes be more sinister, with employees stealing cash, data or other valuable items. In almost all theft situations, termination is a reasonable response.

Related: The Right Way to Handle Employee Theft (and How to Prevent It)

6. Selling company secrets

“There are some companies with closely guarded secrets, and employees are bound by nondisclosure agreements,” explained Tulloch. “Disclosing information that is not public is just cause for dismissal. Managers need to remind staff at least annually of their obligations in this area and talk about what information is confidential or proprietary, and along with strict access protocols, keep a close eye on those who have access to such information.”

7. Diminishing the company brand

Like it or not, each and every employee you hire is a representative of your small business — and his or her behavior can (and will) impact how the public views your brand.

Brand diminishing can happen in a variety of ways. An employee might misbehave at a company get together, or act inappropriately at an event where he or she is working. Similarly, having a generally negative attitude can also impact how your brand is perceived.

Related: Nipping Employee Negativity in the Bud: How to Do It and Why It’s Crucial

Many HR professionals argue that a business’ employees are all brand ambassadors, wherever they go. Business owners should make it clear in their employee handbook (and by example) that workers are seen as representatives of the company and should conduct themselves with integrity in all situations.

This responsibility includes online behavior, as well. Online actions do have consequences, regardless of privacy settings. Obviously, bad mouthing the company, its services, employees or products are grounds for dismissal, but there are plenty of stories of employees being dismissed for other questionable behavior on the internet.
The best way to avoid needing to fire an employee is by establishing clear guidelines for behavior, said Tulloch. Setting expectations can go a long way to building a reliable workforce at your business, as well as keeping employee morale high.

Related: How Bosses Can Improve Relationships With Employees

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