25 Justified Reasons to Fire an Employee

Siôn Phillpott
Siôn Phillpott

Career & Entrepreneurship Expert

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Boss justified firing an employee

You might have hired someone who aced their interview, but as they begin working for you, you notice their behaviour negatively affects the rest of your team, office environment and company overall.  

Taking steps to protect your client relationships, office morale, and business reputation is essential, but in which scenarios is it reasonable to let an employee go

If you are on the fence about what to do, we have compiled a list of 25 acceptable reasons to terminate someone's employment. 

1. Sexual harassment

In most countries, sexual harassment in the workplace is an offence recognised by law for private and public employers. 

The term 'sexual harassment in the workplace refers to any unwelcome behaviour that encompasses sexual remarks and physical advancements. Putting policies in place to ensure a harassment-free and safe workplace is essential; not addressing cases and reports of sexual harassment demonstrates an unethical stance by the company and could result in numerous lawsuits. If an employee is accused of sexual harassment, you will need to be ready to conduct an investigation and take appropriate action to protect your team and company. 

2. Excessive absenteeism

Taking a vacation or a sick day is fine, but when an employee rarely puts in an entire week's work, this could threaten your company performance – making it an appropriate reason to fire them. 

That said, consider that employees with health issues may frequently fall behind their work, take days off, and exhaust their sick days. Depending on local law and your company's policy, a different approach may need to be taken in this case.

However, if there are no official reasons for excessive absences, and this behaviour persists, it could mean that the employee is not an efficient worker and is therefore not contributing to the company's success. Make sure to follow up with your HR department in these cases before taking further measures against an employee.  

3. Conflict of interest

In many businesses, employment guidelines include an ethics code that touches upon conflict of interest. 

Suppose an employee is in a situation where the is a potential conflict with the company's interests. In that case, this could justify your reason for making them redundant, especially if this was a deliberate action or if a satisfactory solution cannot be found. 

4. Breaking client confidentiality

A breach of client confidentiality could result in disciplinary action, and depending on the severity of the breach, you will probably have to release the employee in question. 

However, you first need to assess whether the employee understands the rules and the seriousness of this violation, as well as the consequences of breaking confidentiality and data protection policies. 

In these cases, it is important to investigate as soon as possible and interview other employees. It would help if you gathered witness statements and any additional relevant information regarding the case. When there is enough evidence, you may take legal action leading to termination.

5. Release of confidential information

You must ensure that your employees sign an employment contract agreeing to protect confidential information as an employer. Sharing information concerning projects, finances, customers and strategies outside of the company could be considered a breach of confidentiality.

Using business contacts for personal gain is another confidentiality breach in the business world. For example, a sales associate looking up a customer's phone number in the company database and sharing it online would be a serious breach of confidential information. Clients value their privacy, and the best course of action would be to fire the employee to protect your business' reputation. 

6. Theft of company property

Even if an employee only takes a small bag of rubber bands home from your supply closet, it is still considered stealing. 

Theft at work is common, but for small things such as stationery, firing someone could be an overreaction – unless it is a recurring behaviour.

When it comes to the theft of costly items and equipment that could lead to great financial loss to your business, however, firing the perpetrator is certainly justified. Similarly, specific instances where company property and resources are misused could make up grounds for termination.

7. Discrimination

Discrimination is a serious workplace offence. Discriminative behaviours create a hostile work environment and could also have legal repercussions. Several laws aim to protect employees from experiencing discriminatory behaviour based on protected classifications, such as:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality

8. Violence and harassment

Both physical and verbal violence justify an employee's dismissal. Workplace harassment can be motivated by race, religion, age, gender, nationality or ethnicity. 

If someone's actions negatively impact another employee's physical and mental wellbeing, putting their safety at risk, then you must be ready to take immediate action against them.

9. On the clock drug or alcohol use

If an employee shows up to work intoxicated or under the influence of other substances, this could lead to immediate redundancy. 

That said, ensure that your zero-drug tolerance policies consider employees who may be taking medication with severe side effects for health-related reasons. Before you terminate an employee's contract for being under the influence, investigate the situation first.

10. Insubordination

Most instances of insubordination have relatively minor consequences. But when employees ignore workplace health and safety protocols, their disobedience could have serious consequences. 

If their behaviour doesn't change after giving them a warning, this could be grounds for their dismissal.

11. Falsifying company documents

Falsifying company documents for personal gains is a common occurrence. 

For example, employees may falsify documents to increase their overtime bonuses or to claim higher expenses. 

Your employee handbook should include the ramifications of falsifying documents, including the potential for dismissal. If someone gets caught redhanded, you will need to follow proper procedure and consider releasing them from their duties based on the severity of their actions. 

12. Destruction of company property

The destruction of company property is serious misbehaviour, leading to disciplinary action, such as dismissal. 

Your corporate policies and employee handbook should mandate that employees are expected to look after company equipment and only use it for its intended purpose during work hours. If you suspect an employee is responsible for property damage, you must find evidence against them before firing them.

13. Violation of company policies

A comprehensive guide to your company's policies is essential when onboarding new employees. This should outline policies relating to:

  • Tech/equipment
  • Harassment 
  • Code of ethics
  • Zero-tolerance
  • Dress code

If employees go against any policies outlined within your guide, this acts as a cause to let them go. 

14. Misleading job applications

85% of job applicants submit false resumes, according to HireRight's 2017 report. 

In the instance that you discover an employee has lied to you about their qualifications and experience, then you certainly have grounds to fire them. 

15. Poor job performance

The most common reason for an employment termination is poor performance. It is also a catch-all term for a variety of issues, such as:

  • An employee who cannot perform the job properly following the standard training period
  • Not meeting quotas
  • A constant need for supervision

Indeed, an employee's poor job performance is the most self-explanatory reason on this list to dismiss them. 

16. Downsizing

In the case of a company downsizing or making budget cuts, an employee may be dismissed regardless of their excellent performance.

To be as considerate as possible, notify your employees of your decision as soon as you can to give them a headstart. In the US, certain employers must inform employees before layoffs under the federal Worker Change and Retraining Notification Act (WARN).

17. Inappropriate behaviour outside of work

What should you do as an employer if your employee participates in an extremist group demonstration or posts content containing hate speech on social media? 

This will fully depend on your company policies, code of conduct and culture.

To avoid legal liability, ensure that your policies do not contradict local and national laws that may prohibit you from taking adverse action against employees' conduct outside of work.  

18. Discourteous behaviour

Disrespectful behaviour, whether towards a customer or another employee, is considered workplace incivility and can result in a toxic work environment. 

A lack of regard for others and their feelings (such as making rude comments, causing social isolation and workplace disruption) can act as grounds to fire an employee. That said, you will need to document instances of this behaviour and the disciplinary actions you took. You may also need the help of your Human Resources department to proceed. 

19. Slandering

Slanderous remarks are a common form of defamation. In the case where someone repeatedly slanders their colleague, manager or even their company, you may have to step in and take disciplinary action against them. 

Having a general meeting with your entire team, where you explain the issue and the consequences of workplace slander, can also help you prevent any future occurrences. 

20. Using position for personal gain

Using a work computer to send a personal email or print a recipe isn't exactly an abuse of power. However, suppose your social media manager is using his position to promote his side business through your company's channels, for example. In that case, this could be a reasonable cause to fire them, as they are using their position for personal gain. 

21. Poor culture fitness

Hiring managers focus on the right skills for the job that they neglect to look for someone who understands the company's culture and goals. Although they might possess the ideal skills for the job, managing and integrating this person into your team will be highly challenging.

In the early stages of their employment, if you notice they are not a good cultural fit, there's no obligation to keep them on board. That said, you should also give people the benefit of the doubt and allow them some time to adjust to their role.

22. Long-term ill health 

Long-term ill health can sometimes force an employee to stop working. This could either mean that they will have to resign, or you will have to let them go. 

Dismissal should be the last resort, and you strive to try to accommodate your employee as much as possible. If you do need to dismiss them, ensure that you are aware of their workers' rights to avoid being legally liable. 

23. Using company time or property for personal business

When employees use company property for personal matters, this can lead to their dismissal. Of course, using the company printer occasionally isn't exactly a serious incident that requires disciplinary actions. But working on personal projects on the clock and using company resources and equipment extensively, and without permission, could we a reasonable cause to fire them. 

24. Statutory illegality

On some occasions, continuing to employ someone would mean breaking the law. For example, if a delivery driver at a courier company loses their driving license, then the company can no longer employ them. 

Likewise, if an employee lacks the correct permits to work in your country could mean that you have to fire them. That said, you cannot circumvent the formal dismissal procedure because of statutory illegality. 

25. Some other substantial reason

The SOSR category, or a 'dustbin' category, contains all the dismissals that do not fit under other categories.

The dismissals that fall under this category don't have a legal definition. It is essential to have a strong case if you are dismissing on SOSR grounds, as any claim to a tribunal would require you to prove your reasoning through evidence and documentation. 

Final thoughts

Among all 25 reasons cited above, the severity of someone's actions, as well as their impact, will determine whether firing them is justified. 

Regardless of whether you are certain that you have the grounds to terminate someone's employment, it is always wise to consult an attorney first to ensure you will not be held liable for wrongful termination. 

Can you think of any other justified reasons to fire an employee? Let us know in the comments section below.

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 30 October 2017.