How long have you been persistently working at getting your startup off the ground? If your answer is anything to the effect of ‘Longer than I would like,’ it might be time for a little internal reflection about the operational side of things. Of course, this is easier said than done. There are more than just a couple of aspects to consider. As you begin to evaluate all that goes into this, no one would blame you if your head started spinning. Considering you already have much on your plate regarding the running of your startup, we are here to help with this.


Often, it is not your own planning or actionable steps that are holding things up – poor internal relations are the culprit. This could be the result of two unique people struggling to find the best way to understand each other. Or it could be that there is a toxic employee in your midst. This latter example can manifest itself in several ways from constant verbal pushback to directly going against instructions. Author and speaker Robert Kiyosaki painted a picture of the future of your company should you fail to address this, “If you do not get rid of your bad employees, the good employees will leave. If I do not fire bad customers, not only will my good customers leave but many of my good employees will leave as well.”

To aid you in this process, we have gathered a few people who have experienced letting go of a toxic employee in a startup.


1. Is it possible to repair the situation?

Toxicity comes in many forms. Some people do nothing more than utter a couple of choice words under their breath. Others decide to literally become criminals. There is certainly a straightforward answer for how to handle this latter party. But, it is arguable that not every single instance of toxicity in the office calls for a firing. Afterall, your startup relies on a small pool of employees so reducing that number further is not helpful from an operational standpoint. 

“Take your toxic employee aside and have a heart-to-heart about their behavior. If they’re willing of course,” said Yusuf Shurbaji, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Prismfly. “Even just mentioning it can change their behavior patterns enough to where you don’t have to take drastic measures. 

This toxicity could be appearing for more reasons than we have time to list here. There could be a personal issue at play for this employee. Or, there could be a work related conflict they cannot seem to escape. If so, you, their boss, must step in to play mediator between them and whatever the issue is. Otherwise, you will be faced with the unwanted task of letting your toxic employee go. 

“Generally, people would rather avoid an issue altogether than address it head on," said Chris Gadek, Head of Growth at AdQuick. "Cavities are a great example of this. If you’re in charge of a company, don’t let relationships sour right in front of you while you do nothing.”

2. Never, ever, jump the proverbial gun

Toxicity spreads like wildfire. Or at least that is how it feels whenever you're around someone who spews this behavior regularly. If you can recall an instance in your working life where you felt inundated by the toxic behavior of another, you are very aware of the natural desire within yourself to get as far away from this toxicity as possible. While this reaction is certainly protective and protective in nature, it may cause an overreaction if left unchecked. 

“Most people want a workplace free of poisonous people,” said Karim Hachem, VP of eCommerce at Maxine of Hollywood. “But you can never, under any circumstances, let an employee go without just cause. If you do, you’re only exposing yourself to a higher risk of a lawsuit.”

Needless to say, a lawsuit is the last thing you want to deal with on top of the headache that is your toxic employee. Especially, if they are the party responsible for the lawsuit. To ensure you and your startup do not find yourself in these shoes, take the time to meet with human resources so as to understand the ins and outs of the hiring procedure. This extra step will make all the difference. 

“HR needs to be included in each and every instance of an employee being let go from the company,” said Dr. Michael Green, Chief Medical Officer of Winona. “I can think of about twenty reasons why this should be the case, but even that would pale in comparison to the true number of reasons this needs to be an every instance practice.”

 3. Keep a record of their actions/behavior

Any good human resources representative will tell you that all the toxic occurrences in the world will mean absolutely nothing without the evidence to support them. When you consider the point we just wrapped up, this makes a ton of sense - innocent until proven guilty after all. For you, the person desiring to rid your startup of a toxic employee, this means that you must document anything and everything possible related to their behavior.

“You never want to find yourself in a ‘he said, she said’ situation when it comes to firing someone,” said Ian Heyman, Founder of Male Drip Protection. “Before you even broach the topic of firing a toxic employee, have proof of everything.”

Evidence related to this can look like any number of things. For one, coworkers of a toxic employee make for excellent eye-witnesses, anonymous or otherwise. That is, if you have instilled a healthy working environment. Alternatively, there is more than one way digitally to monitor the office appropriately and in the pursuit of overall safety. From cameras in public spaces to the awareness of an individual's online behavior, you can become informed in more areas than one. 

“Just like with he old phrase ‘the tie goes to the runner,’ the benefit of the doubt will always go to the employee,” said John Berry, CEO and Managing Partner of Berry Law. “That is, if there’s a lack of information. But, if this is on your side, firing becomes an inevitable formality.”

4. One last chance

Not every employee, issue, or company is made the same. There are variables at play between you and your toxic employee that are uniquely your own. As a result of this, discretion must be present with every firing. Sometimes, a fire-on-the-spot-moment is called for once you discover the high level of toxicity reached by an employee. Other times, employees are willing to make sweeping changes because they realize not doing so may cost them their employment. 

“Some people deserve a second chance in the workplace,” said Omid Semino, CEO and Founder of Diamond Mansion. “At the end of the day, we’re all learning. But, there is a line you have to draw here.”

Where exactly should you draw this line? Well the truth is that is up to you. What kind of atmosphere do you desire for your startup? Obviously, there is a strong legal line you must adhere to - no personal harm in any fashion. But outside of that, it is a matter of tolerance. 

“No company wants to lose a talented employee,” said Brittany Dolin, Co-Founder of Pocketbook Agency. “But if this person is toxic in their interpersonal relationships then they’ve gotta go - unless they follow through on a promise of change. The real question is, how far are they willing to go to keep their job?”


5. It is time for the talk

You would be hard pressed to find a single person who enjoys being the party responsible for informing an employee of their termination. It is not a comfortable or even positive interaction regardless of how you approach it. But, that toxic employee just has to go and you have to be the one to do it. So bite the bullet and sit them down. 

“Firing must always be a private ordeal, even if the person in question did something that has far-reaching effects,” said Juan Pablo Cappello, Co-Founder and CEO of Nue Life. “For the sake of professionalism and team comradery, there is no other way to go about this.”

You might be thinking to yourself, ‘Wow, firing an employee is a big moment’ and you would be right. It is not an everyday occurrence. Because of this, preparing for the reality of firing a toxic employee is highly advisable. 

“Letting an employee go is difficult however you choose to handle it,” said Maegan Griffin, Founder, CEO and nurse practitioner at Skin Pharm. “Don’t make it more difficult by trying to do it off the cuff—get ready in every sense of the idea.”

Certainly, all this is an immense amount of information to take in all at once. To help you understand the gist of everything we discussed above, study the words of Anne M. Mulcahy, the former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation, “Employees are a company’s greatest asset; they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.”

Author's Bio: 

A Passionate Blogger and Content Creator.