Terminating the problem employee

office workplace with 8 employees at desks or talking

“You need to be always thinking about the different laws that you need to consider and how they might impact your employee discipline situation.”

In a course about how to manage and terminate a problem employee, the list of common office personalities reads like a very bad day at the office.

“Almost every employer has a problem employee, has had one in the past, or will have one in the future,” says Deanna Mouser, an employment law specialist who teaches Terminating and Managing Problem Employees and several other law-related courses in the Human Resources Management certificate program at UCSC Silicon Valley Extension.

She cites the complainer, the know-it-all, the procrastinator, and the social media pundit, among other stereotypical workers who can disrupt a work environment. How can employers and human resource professionals effectively navigate the laws that impact terminations carefully to avoid serious legal consequences? They can learn how to identify and minimize the risk of potential legal problems before they arise and use a simple checklist.

“You need to be always thinking about the different laws that you need to consider and how they might impact your employee discipline situation,” Mouser says.

Terminating and Managing Problem Employees, one of UCSC Extension’s most popular one-day courses, will be taught online for the first time Saturday, April 27.

Mouser, who has 30 years’ experience in the field, will cover the most common challenges posed by difficult personalities in the workplace while laying the foundation to avoid legal problems that can arise from employee termination.

Every case is unique, she says, but it’s important that human resource professionals know how to investigate and document the termination process to minimize the risk of litigation and other legal claims.

While there are no prerequisites for the class, the course builds on information in Law and Human Resource Management, one of the core courses in the HR Management certificate program. Students will have the opportunity to choose their focus, studying the issues that arise, situation by situation. Discussion will cover options for performance improvement and effective disciplinary warnings.

“Since most employers will at some point have someone who is identified as a problem employee, it’s important to know how you terminate someone in the best way possible to try to avoid lawsuits,” Mouser says.

Problem Employee Types

Here are some of the more common categories of problem employee personalities.

The Troublemaker (Complainer)

Basically the troublemaker tries to get everyone else upset at the employer.

“It’s not just about them being upset,” Mouser says. “They’re trying to get everyone else involved. They often undermine the employer itself. They’re intentionally trying to rile everyone up.”

The Whiner

The Whiner nonstop complains—about everything.

The Know-It-All

The Know-It-All basically doesn’t take direction and doesn’t listen to coworkers or management, because, well, they pretty much know everything better than everyone else.

“They’re just very confident in the fact that they know better than everyone else, even though no one else sees it that way,” Mouser says.

The Procrastinator

The Procrastinator is someone who may have incredibly wonderful skills in every other arena, but they cause unneeded stress for others in the workplace by waiting until the last possible moment to get something done. It causes undue stress to everyone else.

“They’re someone who would put on running shoes to make a deadline,” Mouser says.

The Threatener

Of course, you always want to take action before there is physical violence. This worker could be physically violent or could make indirect threats, perhaps by innuendo, saying, for example, “Wouldn’t it be unfortunate if the CEO gets run over by a black SUV?”

The Malingerer

The Malingerer is constantly out on sick leave or other leaves.

“This person milks every illness as long as they possibly can,” Mouser says. “It’s not the sexiest problem employee we talk about, but people usually recognize it as a problem.  Of course, someone can be legitimately ill and need to take time off, but the Malingerer is someone who is regularly ill and absent from work on an ongoing and excessive basis.”

Social Media Pundit

While loosely related to The Troublemaker, The Social Media Pundit posts complaints on the internet, a public platform. The public nature of the internet post triggers certain considerations, and there are specific legal issues related to social media use.

A Workplace Toolkit

At the end of the course, students will have more knowledge, checklists and guides to help them.

“This is not a one size fits all,” Mouser says. “What might be OK in one situation might not be OK in another situation.” The class will help students assess the facts of their situation and spot possible legal issues.

You want to think of your legal risks and whether there is documentation on file. Not only are workers and their factual situations unique, but employers have varying levels of risk tolerance, and some industries have specific laws particular to them.

Mouser will also be teaching Workplace Investigations, a one-day course taught Aug. 17 at the Santa Clara campus.

All her classes qualify for minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) units, a California State Bar requirement for practicing lawyers.

Visit our website to learn more about the Human Resources Management certificate program.


About Deanna Mouser

DEANNA J. MOUSER, J.D., L.L.M., of the Mouser Law Firm has practiced employment law for nearly 30 years. She is well versed in offering practical solutions to employment law issues and has authored articles and chapters on employment law topics, including defamation, arbitration, and preventing workplace violence. She is a frequent speaker on employment law. Formerly she practiced with Littler in San Jose, at Girard & Vinson in Walnut Creek, and at Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo in Pleasanton. She has represented many entities on employment law issues, including law firms,, non-profits, hospitals, health centers, retail, contractors, HOAs, school districts, private schools, community college districts, county offices of education, cities, special districts and high tech companies. Mouser has taught for UCSC Extension since 1990.


Learn more about the Human Resources Management certificate program.



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