Throughout my career, I’ve navigated complex HR challenges, guiding businesses including non-profits through the stressful process of managing high-risk terminations. Among these, parting ways with a rogue employee stands out as particularly difficult and risky.

For leaders assuming HR responsibilities without formal training, handling the intricacies of human resource employee management, especially terminations, can be charged with risk. This newsletter guide is pivotal as it sheds light on the critical challenges leaders face, particularly when dealing with rogue employees who have access to sensitive company assets. It offers actionable insights and real-world strategies to manage these situations effectively, ensuring legal compliance, safeguarding company resources, and maintaining workplace morale.

Today, I am sharing a story that, while a composite of clients we have supported in the past, reflects the real challenges many leaders face in similar situations.

The Rogue Employee: A Cautionary Tale

Consider BSL Spaces, a well-respected commercial property management firm, at the brink of such a challenge. Central to this story is Mason, a key employee whose role expanded far beyond typical employee duties. Leadership trusted Mason with sensitive client data, financial accounts, and the keys to numerous properties. Mason’s journey from a cornerstone of the BSL team to a potential threat is a cautionary tale that underscores the precarious nature of entrusting one individual with unfettered access to company data and resources.

As Mason’s alignment with BSLs’ culture began to wane, leadership avoided managing “Mason’s declining performance,” the elephant in the room. Like many leaders they clung to the hope that the old Mason would somehow show up one day ready to work. It was clear that time and opportunity for feedback and coaching had passed and that this relationship was unsalvageable. The firm found itself facing an overwhelming decision. The prospect of terminating Mason raised a mountain of potential risk.

Insider Threat Statistics

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) defines an Insider Threat as a risk posed by individuals within an organization who may use their authorized access to harm the organization’s mission, resources, personnel, facilities, information, equipment, networks, or systems, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Insider Attacks Have Grown by Over 47% in the last two years. In 2023, approximately 31% of all data breaches were caused by insider threats, implying that one-third of all data breaches emerged from an insider, an employee, a contractor, or other Insider.

According to the 2023 Ponemon-Sullivan Privacy Report, 71% of companies experience 21-40 insider threat incidents yearly, up from 67% in 2022. The average cost to contain an insider threat incident is approximately $179,209.

The Mountain of Risks

  • Operational Disruptions: Mason’s administrative privileges on critical accounts posed a significant risk of locking the company out of essential financial and communication systems.
  • Security Vulnerabilities: The possibility of compromised or lost sensitive client data was a looming threat, compounded by the fear of unauthorized access to client property.
  • Erosion of Culture: The erosion of team morale and trust, as employees who witnessed Mason’s continued disengagement, now grappling with the fallout of Mason’s actions, threatened BSLs’ workplace culture.
  • Financial and Legal Concerns: The aftermath of Mason’s termination was anticipated to be a financial and legal mess, with costs spiraling due to necessary legal and IT interventions to secure and re-secure both digital and physical assets.
  • Risk of Compliance Exposure: Having been a key employee since BSL’s inception, Mason’s deep understanding of the company’s operational vulnerabilities and compliance gaps posed a significant risk, as he could potentially expose these issues, further complicating the termination process.

In these scenarios, my role evolves beyond that of a consultant. It’s about providing a lifeline, blending expertise with empathy to steer the company through the high-stakes process of a risky termination. The approach involves:

  • Assembling a multidisciplinary team of legal, IT, and security experts.
  • Ensuring transparent communication to rebuild trust.
  • Strategizing to reinforce HR policies and practices.
  • Aiding in the culture-reset of the company.

This story, drawn from various real-life scenarios, shows the risks of not having a solid HR foundation, particularly the dangers of overlooking poor performance. Rogue employees don’t just appear; their poor performance, ignored over time, often escalates due to insufficient feedback and coaching. It’s crucial to address performance issues to prevent them from deteriorating. Failing to act can lead to situations where termination becomes the only option. HR professionals are vital in guiding leaders through proactive employee management, helping to make informed decisions before issues escalate beyond repair.

An HR consulting firm can provide expertise and support for leaders in the throes of such challenges or those looking to strengthen their HR practices. Managing the termination of a difficult employee, especially in sensitive industries like property management, needs a nuanced, strategic approach. With the proper support and policies, non-HR professionals can transform these challenges into opportunities for growth and resilience.

For more insights, join our Community of Influence: HR Insights for Non-HR Leaders to continue the discussion or to learn how we can support your business; feel free to reach out or schedule a discovery call.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Please share your comments or stories.

Written by,

Bernadette Jones, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, CEO

Respect in the Workplace Starts With Me™ | Culture-First HR Solutions WBENC & WOSB Certified | Accredited Leadership Coach | DEIB Trainer – San Francisco – Oakland Bay Area