How to Spot a Poisonous Employee
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How to Spot a Poisonous Employee

Employers need to be aware that their favorite employee might be the one causing most of the problems for the other employees.

If you are an employer you need to be aware of the poisonous employee. This person will cost you money by driving customers away, and can scare off good employees in the process.

Brown Nosing

The poisonous employee sneaks under the bosses radar by being a brown noser. A brown noser is somebody who “kisses up” to the authority figure, in this case the boss. A brown noser will typically work very hard when the boss is around, and offer praise for the boss, stroking the bosses ego in their favor. As soon as the boss is gone this person will typically slack off, and may even express to co-workers how much they dislike the boss.

Brown nosing is step one in becoming a poisonous employee.


The poisonous employee often is not at work only on the boss, but their co-workers as well. They sill suck up to everyone. They try to befriend everyone but are true friends of none. They often use information gathered on one befriending mission to earn favor with another when they “pretend” to be doing that person a favor of telling what was said behind their backs. In truth the poisonous employee typically sets the trap, saying something bad about somebody first in order to get the other person to open up. With loyalty to none but themselves, the poisonous employee backstabs everyone.

Tattle Tale

Once the employee feels pretty comfortable having gained the favor of their boss, they soon start offering subtle attacks of their co-workers. Perhaps they will make a point about having to clean up after somebody, or will pretend to ponder why certain things didn't get done, or find other ways of letting the boss know that other employees may not have done certain work, irregardless of the reasons why the work was not done.


The poisonous employee will sabotage their co-workers. This might be benign sabotage, moving things from the place one employee likes them, to another place. This might be direct sabotage, destroying the work of a co-worker. In either case the sabotage works because the sabotaged employee cannot go to the boss to state their case against the saboteur since the saboteur has endeared themselves to the boss.

How to Deal with a Poisonous Employee

Dealing with such a person is extremely tough. Most people, no matter how much they think otherwise, have fragile egos. This is what the poisonous employee depends upon. The key to dealing with such a person is not to trust them. Never fall into their trap of allowing them to stroke your ego.

As an employer you need to be aware that the person who points fingers at other employees is probably trying to get you not to look at them. You need to remain aloof and somewhat emotionally detached from your employees and particularly be wary of the ones who never have anything bad to say. Your employees should not be the ones to stroke your ego.

When you see this person forming you must confront them and tell them that type of behavior is not acceptable (or involve the Human Resource department to deal with them).  Distance yourself emotionally from their praise so they have no power, but keep an eye on them because they will distrupt other employees.  Terminating such a person can be tough depending on the labor laws in your area. 

If you are a co-worker of such a person there is nearly nothing you can do except hope the boss sees it for themselves, either that.. or you can quit.

Read also about the Manipulative Employee

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Comments (6)

Unfortunately every workplace has one of these. Some great info here.

Boy oh boy - I have met SO many of these types.

I've had plenty of these in my day with my restaurants. They don't last very long as my fiance would typically kick them to the curb.

yep I knew plenty of them in my life time too

I once worked in a whole nest of them - all women, male owner/boss. Yikes! When I never gave them personal details of my life, they made up a "person" that was whatever things sprang to their minds. As a boss, it would seem that when they begin bad mouthing other employees, the boss could just hand them a form and tell them any complaints have to be specific and in writing. It takes that inuendo factor out of it and makes them commit their backstabbing attempts to paper.

true, every workplace has one of these.  the one at my former employer contributed to my termination.  It made me angry when I figured it out, but then realized that since this person has no real skills she must rely on manipulation and poisonous behavior to keep her monotonous job.  I certainly learned a hard lesson from this person who was at one time (I thought) a good friend.  least i know what to look for next time!