How to Identify and Deal With Toxic Employees

Pay attention to the warning signs to prevent escalation and the possibility of workplace violence

Posted by Timothy Dimoff in on January 22nd, 2019

Businesses often encounter difficult employees and knowing how to determine the underlying issue and how to deal with it can mean the difference between a peaceful outcome and a potentially violent outcome.

When defining a difficult employee, it is important to understand and investigate their behavior and its triggers.

  • Are they hard to get along with or are they just opinionated?
  • Do they have a behavior problem or is it a matter of their style?
  • Are they toxic to the workplace?

Once you determine the reasons and the effect of their behavior, then you can take the appropriate action to remedy the problem.

Is your toxic employee harassing other workers? Download the free cheat sheet on harassment to learn learn how to recognize it.

Is it Toxic Behavior?

There are ways to help you determine whether it is just a personality or style issue, or if their behavior is actually potentially dangerous. When you are dealing with a true toxic employee, it is generally more than just a relationship and style issue. There is usually anger, fear, distrust and other issues at play here. In some cases, there may be the potential for violent behavior as a result of their issues.

Here are some tips for determining if an employee is exhibiting toxic behavior:

  • Determine if the person is actually toxic or just difficult to work with. Talk to their co-workers and their supervisor. Talk to the employee. Are they having personal issues? Is this new behavior or has it always been there? You need to dig deep to see if you can determine the root of the problem.
  • Notice how the employee interacts and talk with others. Do they say what they mean or are they always saying that they are misunderstood?
  • Are they honest? Do they say one thing to your face and another behind your back? Can they be trusted?
  • Are they always defensive? How do they react to criticism or rejection of their ideas? Do they blame others for their failures or problems?

If you determine they may be toxic, you then need to deal with their behavior. Beware of warning signs:

  • deviant or unusual behavior
  • signs of stress or dysfunction
  • isolation or withdrawal from others or even from society
  • distress of any kind
  • becoming easily agitated or angry

These are all red flags for possible violent behavior.

Tips to Protect Employees

Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees. Every business should:

  • Have a clear, written policy that communicates zero tolerance toward workplace violence in any form.
  • Determine in advance what discipline will be taken against employees who threaten others or who threaten violent action in the workplace, and follow through if such threats arise.
  • Create a management team trained to recognize the warning signs of toxic behavior or potential violence.
  • Alert your employees about what constitutes workplace violence, including destruction of property and implied threats of violence, and encourage them to report these incidents immediately.
  • Have a reporting system (e.g., an anonymous hotline) to let management know about suspicious or threatening behaviors.
  • Learn to recognize employee behaviors that contribute to workplace violence, such as emotional disturbance and substance abuse.

Workplace violence training can be helpful. Learning the warning signs and how to properly and effectively deal with them can mean the difference between a violent and a non-violent outcome.


Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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