Firing an employee for violating company rules

If you manage people long enough, there’s a good chance you’ll have to make a difficult employment decision because an employee breaks a company rule.

Since you may be put on the spot and need to take immediate action, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the inevitable.

4 things you should do right now

Wrongful termination suits are becoming more common every year. In the event the employee files a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you want to have all of your ducks in a row.

1. Be consistent

Consider recent precedents in similar situations. People should be treated the same regardless of race, gender, age, disability or national origin.

2. Make sure everyone’s on the same page

Be sure you have a best-practices employee handbook outlining rules of conduct and disciplinary procedures. Employees should sign an acknowledgement form when they come on board and whenever a significant policy is revised.

The handbook should spell out your company’s progressive discipline procedure. Many companies follow a format of verbal warning(s), written warning, final warning and termination.

3. Document everything 

Record the facts of what happened, including date, details of incident and what actions were taken. Keep emotion out of it. Maintain a written record, which can be as simple as sending yourself an email that you put into the employee’s electronic file, or a handwritten and dated note in a physical file.

While it may be time consuming to document an incident, it’s well worth it. The last thing you want is to get to the end of your rope with an employee but not have the supporting documentation for termination.

In cases of progressive discipline, record all written and final warnings. Be sure the employee signs the completed form or report. If an employee refuses to sign it, ask the employee to note that he refused to sign it. This way you have documentation showing the employee received a copy.

4. Be a Boy Scout 

Be prepared. Have a plan in place before you need it for what you will do if an employee needs to be terminated immediately.

 If you don’t have a security person in the building, it might be a good idea to contract with a service you can call if you need assistance – especially when terminating an employee you suspect may become violent.

3 levels of action

When an employee breaks a company rule, your actions should depend on the severity of the infraction and the particular situation.

1. Proceed with the normal disciplinary process

This step is appropriate when the rule is minor and performance-based, such as violating attendance, dress code or work duty rules.

2. Place the alleged bad actor on administrative leave and investigate

In some cases, such as suspected theft or alleged harassment, you may need to place the employee on administrative leave with pay until you’re able to uncover the whole story.

That conversation might go something like this: “We are looking into a complaint regarding the use of company property (or other problem). In order to investigate, we’re going to ask you to stay home and not perform work until we get more information. We’ll continue paying you while we investigate.”

When there are allegations of blatant harassment, or actual or threatened violence or physical contact – but you did not witness the event – you should interview both employees separately as soon as possible.

In certain circumstances, you may need to place both employees on paid administrative leave until cooler heads prevail and you’re able interview them.

Without provoking the alleged offender, you might say, “In order for us to conduct a complete investigation, please leave the premises and refrain from working until you receive a call from us.” The last thing you want is for the accused to become violent in the workplace.

3. Terminate immediately 

If you witness the incident, the perpetrator admits wrongdoing or both employees acted inappropriately, you’ll need to terminate one or both of them immediately.
Use these steps to avoid a potentially hot-tempered situation:

  • Call the person into your office. Try to be logical and keep emotion out of it. You might say: “This meeting is to address events that happened today between you and (the other person). As you know, we have a zero tolerance policy for violence in the workplace. Several individuals witnessed you threatening to harm another employee. Due to this, we’re ending your employment immediately.”
  • It’s a good idea to have another person in the meeting.
  • Be sure all network access is cut off before the terminated employee leaves the building. Take all company laptops, cell phones, etc.
  • Ask the employee what personal items they need immediately from their desk, and send another employee to bring those items into your office. Tell the terminated employee you will send any other personal items to their home. Do not let them go back to their desk or use the computer.
  • If the employee has company property, such as electronic devices, at home, tell him you need those back within 24 hours. If you don’t want the employee to return to the premises, send a courier to his home to retrieve the items.
  • Someone should escort the terminated employee out of the building and watch until the employee is off the property. In certain cases, you may want to have a security guard in close proximity to the termination meeting. If the employee becomes belligerent or violent, you may need the security guard‘s assistance.
  • In some situations, you may decide for safety reasons that it is best to terminate an employee over the phone.

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20 responses to “Firing an employee for violating company rules

Musungwa Chrispin

great and noted!

Insperity Blog

Thank you! Hope you found the article informative and helpful!

Nellie Camacho

Have anyone of you get in touch with your HR department ?


I broke a policy and informed management about it . Our security team contacted me and I explained everything . They said that was all they needed and if they had any questions they would get back with me . I never heard from them again . Four months later , a different investigator contacts me and says that it came across his desk and now he is investigating it. He did another interview and said he was sending it to HR. My supervisor says that I could get written up or fired . My supervisor violated the same policy last year and was not terminated . If it was not considered so severe if a violation that I have been allowed to work in my same position for almost 5 months now with no reprimand can I still be terminated ? Also have been with the company for over 20 years with no violations and outstanding yearly reviews . Can they terminate a female employee and not the male employee for the same infraction ?

Insperity Blog

Hi Jordan, Have you spoken with your company’s HR department about your situation and concerns?

Renee fleming

Dont really have a valid reason why i was fired. I was told to get my belongings and was walked out but the week prior i had leg pain and couldnt perform a tasked that i was asked to do so i was sent home the next day upon i was told to give a reason why i couldnt perform the job and again i told them i have a serious issue with my leg when i go to picking because it requires 11 HOURS OF WALKING and i have a surgical pin holding my femur in place and it becomes very painful to were i cant walk the next day so because of that they asked for doctor papers the next work day i was being fired before i could show them proof of my medical condition i believe this is some where along the lines of discriminating against a disability. So whats your take on this matter

Insperity Blog

Hi Renee – Have you spoken with someone from your company’s HR department regarding the details of your termination?


I’ve been working for this company for about 7months, I was never given an employee handbook. HR said they working on it time passed and I’ve asked my boss he took note of it said he would tell HR never did, told two different supervisors never did anything. Bout two months ago I even noted it on my employee evaluation that I needed one still nothing. I’m afraid I might get fired for something I don’t know. What do I do if I get fired for something I have no knowledge of

Insperity Blog

Hi Joseph, Has your boss or HR contact indicated you are on the verge of being fired?

Lucas Winton

Was terminated over the phone for stealing, which was dumb to do, I was in a bad financial bind and not thinking, no statement signed, no other witnesses, just over the phone. They have me on camera the Manger said, was wondering if it’s likely they will press charges?

Insperity Blog

Hi Lucas, The answer to your question depends on the particular details and decisions of the parties involved in the situation.

David McCloskey

I was recently terminated by my employer for sending a text to one of my employees who had been bombarding me with texts filled with complaints and profanity and derogatory statements throughout the afternoon and early evening during a work shift in a restaurant. One of the messages that I sent was in the middle of a hypoglycemic episode, see I am diabetic, I had just received another text while in my office checking my blood sugar, upon opening the text I see her referring to me as a D!@#, so I responded with a mean , nasty and what could be considered raunchy message. This employee sat on that text for 6days and next time she worked with me her behavior was very antagonistic. She was sent home by our Director of Operations. Sometime between being sent home and noon the next day she had taken a screen shot of my message from 6 days before and emailed it to our Director of Operations. I arrived at work at noon was called to his office shown a single piece of paper with this message on it and told I was being let go on the spot. I was in shock. That message was composed and sent during a moment I was suffering an extremely low blood sugar. There are no written codes of conducts , policies and procedures or even an employee handbook citing rules and expectations. My Separation Notice list “Company Violation” as reason for termination. Could this be considered wrongful termination based on 1. The behavior happening as a direct result of a disease protected by the ADA. 2. No publication by company of rules and terminable offenses in the workplace?

Insperity Blog

Hello David, Does your company have HR contacts you can speak with to discuss your concerns? If so, you should first reach out to them regarding your situation. Questions regarding a wrongful termination claim would be best directed to an attorney familiar with employment law.


In May of 2016 I was terminated for stealing a $5.00 coupon. Actually other employees came thru my line before using these coupons, so I thought it was o.k. to use them. An ex co worker gave me the coupon to use. I was fired. Now, been trying to get a job ever since, and no luck. what now? no job forever any clues to what to say on an application of what to do???? Never late, never tardy, hundreds of great customer surveys thru my name, and fired. worked there over 2 years and 3 months.. wow…. so unfair.

Insperity Blog

Hi tr, One option you may want to look into is reaching out to a resume writing service in your area. Specialists there can help you decide how best to market yourself for the kinds of roles you’re interested in.


fired for not following companies procedures policies , I was never in trouble before, that good evaluations and a good race and was never in trouble then one day I get fired because of policy and procedures????
they say I took long breaks took a long lunch I was one in the accounting office and looked at someone screensaver on their phone, and on the internet when it was job related????


I was recently terminated from my job and on my final paycheck I did not receive my P.T.O. I had over 280 hours. I contacted the payroll specialist thru Insperity and he told me to look at my employee handbook and also to contact the payroll lady from my former employer. Unfortunately since I am not an active employee I did not have access to the employee handbook. In addition I left two voice mails for the payroll lady and she has not responded to either my voicemails or my email. I have a friend that is currently employed by my former employer and she sent me a copy of the employee handbook. I read thru the handbook and NO where does it indicate that A terminated employee is not eligible for P.T.O. This information needs to be added to the employee handbook. I am very upset. I had worked hard for that company for over five years and I get stiffed.

Insperity Blog

Hi Lourdes, Your frustrations are understandable, especially when you aren’t able to get in touch with the payroll specialist at your former employer for assistance. Have you tried reaching out to your former employer’s HR department as well? Perhaps a representative there may be able to further explore their handbook with you and direct you on your available options.


I am stressed beyond you can imagine over a company policy violation that I had committed several weeks ago, but it was just discovered last week. I was made aware of a pending decision, as it was handed upward within the company. What I did was obviously not performance, so I wont qualify for a 90-day performance improvement option, so now I’m very worried that this will get me fired. I love my job and I love my co-workers, but I just want to be given a second chance. Is a second chance an option with a policy violation? A lapse in judgement for a moment shouldn’t be worth 4 years of excellent performance on the job.

Insperity Blog

Hi Julie – I’m so sorry to hear about your stressful work situation. Regarding your question, the ultimate decision belongs to your company’s HR department. Your company’s handbook may contain additional details pertaining to the circumstances of your violation. Good luck and thanks for your comments.

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