How to Handle a Combative Team Member

January 1, 2023

employees yelling at each other

Managing a team is easy when your team members get along well. However, when one team member is combative with others, the entire team can crumble and become completely unproductive. Instead of focusing on results, team members are more focused on the behavior of one problem employee. In fact, 87% of workers indicated that workplace incivility has an impact on work performance. Today, we’re addressing how to address this common concern and reduce the effect of a combative employee on the productiveness of the rest of your team.

Open Conversations and Progressive Discipline

When you have an employee who is disrespectful to the rest of the team, or one who openly disagrees with you in a hostile manner, you need to address it early on. Talking to co-workers professionally is the baseline for acceptable behavior in the working world. Furthermore, you should create a company culture where employees who disagree with your decisions or question your approach have the option to address this. However, their conversation should, again, be respectful, and if they don’t agree with your choice, they should include reasons why another option is better, not simply “I don’t like this option.”

If one employee is rude, hostile, and openly angry at work, have a one-on-one conversation immediately with them. Explain that their behavior is unacceptable, and if they cannot correct it, there will be serious consequences, including termination. It’s important to state upfront that their behavior is a fireable offense and that they know the consequences of continuing to act in that manner. Then, you stick to your word. If this employee isn’t reining in their behavior, then start progressive discipline according to your employee handbook.


Negativity spreads, and either your team members actively avoid that person making the team less productive, or they start picking up on the combative behavior.

It’s Not Okay For Someone Who Works For You To Be Openly Rude and Disruptive

Even in a tough labor market and staff shortage situation, which many of our Chamber members may be experiencing, keeping a disruptive employee just because you need the body will actually have a detrimental effect on your business. The saying “one bad apple spoils the bunch” is a timeless phrase for a reason. Negativity spreads, and either your team members actively avoid that person making the team less productive, or they start picking up on the combative behavior.

Your staff will note how you address a combative employee, and if you allow the behavior to persist, you’re training all of them that it’s ok to address you and each other in this manner. Document every incident and follow your progressive discipline to termination.

Firing a Combative Employee

You’ve had a serious conversation with the employee about their behavior and how it’s unacceptable in your business. But, you still have angry push-back, open contempt, or arguments with team members.

At this point, you can sit them down one more time and say something like, “This is how the team and the business will operate. Period. You need to decide if you can be reasonably content working here, knowing that the way things have gone is the way they will keep going, and my expectations will remain the same. It’s not an option for you to remain employed here while acting disruptive and disrespectful. If you do not feel you can work in this environment, with the expectations I have laid out, I can’t have you remain employed here.”

You may opt to allow your problem employee to quit on their own. If they don’t, then your only option is to terminate their employment.

Last modified: December 22, 2022

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