I can’t fire a terrible employee

A reader writes:

I’m the manager at a growing professional services firm. I’m in charge of a lot of things, but the company owners have the final say in hiring or firing, and I’m stuck in a situation where the owners won’t fire a terrible employee.

Bad Fit was hired for a position that it turns out is way too difficult for them, and nothing has helped them get up to a base level of competency for the role. Everything they do has problems, and they can’t perform basic functions for the job without mistakes. I’ve bent over backwards and tried everything in my bag of tricks to get them to improve, but it’s clear that the job is just too much for them and way beyond their abilities. I’ve also had lots of complaints from other staff about Bad Fit’s constant mistakes and poor attitude.

I finally got the owners to let me put Bad Fit on a 60-day PIP after almost a year of struggling. I thoroughly documented the repeated problems, their inability to do just about anything right, and a complete lack of progress on any of the PIP goals despite huge amounts of time and effort sunk into trying to support them. One of the owners looked at everything and said, “Wow, Bad Fit would’ve been fired months ago at any other company, huh?”

I hoped they understood, but the owners decided that instead of firing Bad Fit at the end of the PIP, they’re switching Bad Fit to a new position that they created out of thin air … because “Bad Fit is a nice person who fits our company culture, and we’d feel bad getting rid of them.” I was told to come up with simple busywork for Bad Fit, and I have to take away work from effective employees to handpick easy tasks that Bad Fit won’t fail at. The other employees also have to pick up the slack and take on all the things Bad Fit is incapable of doing. I tried my best to convince the owners that replacing Bad Fit with a competent, motivated new hire is the best solution, but I can’t change their minds. Bad Fit gets an easy and unnecessary job at the same pay grade, other employees are being punished for Bad Fit’s failures, and I have to shift around a lot of things to accommodate Bad Fit.

When Bad Fit was told the outcome of the failed PIP, their only reaction was, “Okay, but can I get a raise since I’ve been here for a year now?”

My team is going to be really unhappy, with good reason, and this hasn’t fixed any of the problems with Bad Fit. I foresee getting complaints from the owners that I’m not keeping Bad Fit busy when there simply aren’t enough tasks that Bad Fit can do correctly to keep busy all day, and my good employees will feel very unappreciated when they see that someone who can’t do their job has had no consequences, but they’ve had all their easiest work taken from them and given to Bad Fit.

What can I do at this point to make the best out of the situation?

How much capital do you have and how much are you prepared to spend?

In this case, that capital is going to be a mix of how senior your role is, how much you’re valued, how much leeway they’ve given you to speak truth to power, how much of a pain in the ass you’ve been (or not been) in other disagreements there, how much they like you personally, and how much they care about keeping you happy (and keeping you, period).

If you have enough capital and influence, in some cases you could say, “Look, Bad Fit is not able to do the work we need, even at a basic level. I’m spending a huge amount of time managing them and correcting their mistakes, other staff resent having to absorb their work, and I’m going to start losing good employees over it. We’ve given Bad Fit fair warning of the changes we needed to see and haven’t seen them. I can’t effectively manage this team with Bad Fit taking up so many resources, and with people seeing there are no consequences for poor performance. You’ve acknowledged Bad Fit should be fired, and we’re at the point where I need to do that or I can’t manage the team. Can we figure out what it would take to make you comfortable with me moving forward on letting them go?” (On that last point about how to get the owners to be comfortable, you could suggest things like one very explicit final warning — that clearly tells Bad Fit they will be fired in X weeks if you don’t see Y improvements, a severance package to cushion their landing, etc.)

If that’s not an option or it gets you nowhere, another option (though it’s far inferior) is to say that if they insist you keep Bad Fit, you’re not willing to assign them substantive (or maybe any) work because that takes time away from productive work, and you can’t continue to pour your time into managing them. If the owners want to keep someone on staff doing nothing, that’s their call — but you’re not going to invest time in supervising them. But this is far from ideal; it’s bad for your team’s morale, as well as yours, and it risks impacting your reputation. If someone on your team is ever asked about your work, are they going to say, “She let a terrible performer linger for years doing nothing”? And it undermines your ability to manage everyone else — how can you hold other people accountable for doing good work when they see Bad Fit isn’t held accountable for anything?

Ultimately, you’re being asked to manage by people who are refusing to give you the power to do it effectively. It’s not that different than hiring an accountant but refusing to let them see half your books. If the owners won’t budge, this might not be the place to stay long-term.

{ 278 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonym*

    Is anyone else seeing irony in a professional services firm utterly refusing to follow basic management practices?

    Nothing constructive to share, OP, but wishing you the best of luck with all of it.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Professional services firms are often pretty terrible if you’re using basic management practices as a yard stick.

        1. Farrah Sahara*

          Yup. Mine too. Spent 15 years in that industry.

          Off topic: I keep reading the name as Brad Fit! Brain not functioning today.

          1. Annie on a Mouse*

            Can we add Brad Fit to the list of names used here—it goes so well with Wakeen and Fergus!

          2. Lilyofthefield*

            If it makes you feel better, I read “Brain not functioning” as “BRIAN not functioning”, and wondered where Brian came from and why he was not functioning today.

    2. annalisakarenina*

      This could literally be the firm I used to work at! Professional services firms can be… a mess in general.

  2. Ganymede*

    This is why company “culture” is such a bad measure for recruitment. I would really push the fact that you will lose staff who are actually competent over this. I would be furious to see this, and Bad Fit is obviously clueless too, asking for a raise…!!

    1. Heidi*

      I am honestly puzzled at how “constant mistakes and poor attitude” could be interpreted as a good cultural fit. This employer sounds just as problematic as the employee.

      1. Luke G*

        If the Bad Fit wears a company shirt, and talks a good game about whatever the current jargon-laden “quality initiative” is, and can spout off the mission statement, they could be perceived as being a good fit. Heck, they even could be AWARE of the purpose of the company and be able to explain why it’s important to do things right just like a good employee would.

          1. Luke G*

            Pretty much. The hard part is figuring out if the bad fit is deliberately using flash and style to hide their lack of skill, or if they’re legitimately buying in to the “corporate culture” elements while simultaneously being incompetent. That might not matter in the end on whether you should retain them or let them go, but it would certainly inform how I dealt with them before reaching that point.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        I can’t possibly understand what kind of positive culture this company has that they’d want to maintain if Bad Fit fits right in. They like ineffective work and poor attitude? Someone so clueless that they ask for more money after failing a PIP? Or maybe they like the confidence it took to ask for a raise after having all but the most pointless tasks taken away and given to coworkers. Is this place full of bees?

        1. Batty Twerp*

          Bees, wasps and murder hornets (they’re still a thing, right? I’ve lost track of this year…)

          1. Rectilinear Propagation*

            Yes, they recently took out a huge nest of them. The Seattle Times has an article about it and there’s video of it floating around on Twitter.

      3. Nanani*

        I’m guessing “fits the culture” means something like “shares a hobby with the people at the top” rather than anything related to actual work.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Or babbles the right keywords. You’d be amazed how far LEAN nonsense will get you when the executives are drinking the kool aid.

            1. Massmatt*

              Ugh, yes a prior job of mine implemented this. They reorganized the teams so the most productive people were on the “new style” management system and after 3 months announced the success of the process because the same people were again the most productive. The emperor was wearing no clothes. I was… not popular for pointing this out. But yes, jargon such as “target condition” was virtually mandatory.

            2. Brad Fitt*

              The day I found out LEAN is for manufacturing, everything made a little more sense—except for the part where management in seemingly every industry has decided to implement it, despite it being demonstrably useful for one industry and anecdotally terrible in all the rest. It’s like open offices all over again. :(

        1. lazy intellectual*

          In my last job, “good fits” were yes-people who always agreed and never disagreed with their managers, and worshipped whatever their managers did. They weren’t necessarily good at their jobs, but were praised and given promotions while people who cleaned up after them were stuck at the bottom.

          1. selena*

            Sounds a lot like my last job:
            -don’t be critical about stupid plans,
            -share the manager’s posh education background

            These people were ‘good’ at their job in the sense that they got to finish the flashy projects (make a fancy PowerPoint after someone else did months of data-cleaning and trouble-shooting)

            1. Karia*

              Ah yes –

              – be thin and attractive
              – agree with everything boss says
              – get in at same time as boss
              – come up with flashy initiatives that make no money

        2. Mel_05*

          Yes! I definitely got hired a job, not because I was the best fit – although I was a top contender anyway – but because I shared an interest with the owner and the other person didn’t. They said I was a culture fit, but I think I proved them heartily wrong over the years – even though their gamble on my developing skills did pay off.

          I had one other suspicious hiring when I was fresh out of college – it was a nightmare in every way you’d expect from a place that hires people based on how the owner knows them.

        3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          Maybe the OP doesn’t realize (or she presumably would have said something) that Bad Fit knows the owners personally or is within their social circle…the daughter of a golf buddy or member of their church.

          1. Shaking Fists at Clouds*

            I doubt it, rarely are people from marginalized groups are 1) even allowed into the company without substantial skills and 2) allowed to coast on the idea of “being a good cultural fit”

            1. Brad Fitt*

              Yup. A few times in my life I’ve seen a plausible example of a “diversity hire” and once I even saw a “diversity we-can’t-fire-her-for-awful-performance-because-we-don’t-understand-employment-law” but never have I ever seen a “diversity promoted-to-the-corner-office.”

      4. Not A Girl Boss*

        I’m wondering if LW focused more on actual work problems than attitude problems? That’s kind of the tone of the letter too, that the attitude is just the cherry on top.
        And, I mean, I get it. Being terrible at your job should be enough grounds for firing and its a better thing to focus on for a PIP than squishy things like attitude. But at this point I wonder if writing up a second report on the attitude problems, and the impact on overall morale from keeping this person, would have more merit? Maybe hearing complaints from a few otherwise positive employees would help too?

        1. selena*

          I wonder if LW told the owners about that whole ‘asked for a raise’ situation, and if other employees ever weighted in with their complaints: it’s well possible that Bad Fit is a social kameleon who plays the ‘i try sooo hard, but my manager keeps bullying me’ sympathy-card with the owners.

      5. LilyP*

        It *could* also mean someone who’s always kind, polite, bubbly, makes good conversation, etc and seems to be trying. It does sound like the problem is fundamental capability and not like, stealing or not showing up or refusing assignments or cursing at coworkers or something. I think sometimes people just use culture fit to mean “someone I like” which often really means “someone who is friendly with me”

    2. Derjungerludendorff*

      I think a good hiring manager takes culture into account, but it can’t be the only thing you base your hiring on!
      The owners put OP in a pretty awful position here.

    3. MerBearStare*

      I used to work with a girl who was a little odd but harmless; she wasn’t very good at her job, but her old boss was close to retirement and didn’t want to deal with it. She was eventually moved to a different team and was almost immediately put on a PIP. I was talking to her one day, around our annual review time, and she told me, “If I don’t get a raise, I’m gonna quit and then I can get unemployment.” I just thought to myself, “Girrrrrl, you are on a PIP. You are not getting a raise and that’s not how unemployment works.” She left shortly after that, but I don’t remember if she was fired or if she quit.

      1. Mel_05*

        So many people don’t understand how unemployment works. It’s amazing the number of people who think just the way she did.

    4. LadyByTheLake*

      This. It’s hard to see how someone fits “company culture” if they are destroying that culture and making the good employees miserable. It is things like this that make people who have other choices (the best employees) start looking around.

      1. Artemesia*

        The owners need to be told directly that by making other employees take on this poor employees work they are running the risk of driving off the good employees and being left with someone who can’t do the work. Time to say — ‘he can’t be on our team if he isn’t manageable and can’t do the work’ – perhaps her could be your personal assistant.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I agree. OP needs to go outside of the context of this particular employee and stress the effect it is having on the rest of the team and the effect it will have going forward.

          It sounds like there has been a lot of talk about him not meeting expectations for his own goals, but has there been specific discussion around what it is going to do to the team’s workload and dynamic?

    5. singularity*

      Unless ‘company culture’ is code for something else, like the owners know Bad Fit or are close/friends with/connected to members of Bad Fit’s family and hired them out of some other obligation. I’ve worked for small businesses that were run that way– people hired because they knew them from church, not because they were qualified, and then didn’t want to fire them because of ‘gossip.’

      1. Mockingjay*

        ExToxicCompany was all about ‘culture.’ While they didn’t hire friends or relatives, they looked for cheerleaders who spouted “Go Company!” instead of ensuring employees had (any) skills and experience. These people were all Bad Fits.

        ExToxicCompany is no longer around.

        OP, if they don’t fire Bad Fit, start looking. I guarantee your team already is. (I wish I had concrete advice to offer other than leaving. From what you wrote, you’ve done everything a professional could be expected to do. I am sorry for you and your team.)

      2. pope suburban*

        There’s almost no way this isn’t the real issue. LW’s company reminds me of HellJob, where the big boss was so committed to maintaining what he wanted the “company culture” to be, he’d risk employees’ safety rather than let someone go. We wasted so much time and effort due to that, and more than one employee suffered health consequences due to it (We had a couple of legitimately dangerous employees there, like in-trouble-with-the-law dangerous, but he wouldn’t do anything about them), but he wouldn’t budge. The people at the top have some 100% non-business stuff going on that is making them behave irrationally. In my experience, that’s not likely to change unless a significant portion of the executive team leaves and is replaced with functioning adults. In OP’s situation, my math would be that my efforts are better spent finding myself a different job, simply because when people are *this* dysfunctional despite being aware of it (I mean, “Bad Fit would be fired anywhere else?!”), they’re really not likely to change. Better to make a graceful exit than to slowly lose your grip trying to bring unreasonable people into line.

    6. Anonym*

      Also, I’d be wary of a company whose culture is so “special” that they have trouble finding people who fit into it…

      1. selena*

        There are quit some letters on this site from employees who *know* they are not good enough and want advice on a gracefull exit.
        And from managers who need advice on how to provide such an exit.

        And it always makes me feel sad when people really really try to make it work, but it’s just not good enough.

        Bad Fit on the other hand sounds like they are perfectly okay dragging everyone down with them.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Right – like the amazing individual contributors who get promoted to management but can’t handle being a manager for whatever reason – the new role is just a bad fit for them, but they personally aren’t a bad person.

          Sounds like Bad Fit employee here just doesn’t have that same awareness that they are a bad fit at this company – and I don’t know how you fix that if ownership isn’t willing to have consequences.

    7. Elizabeth West*

      Oh my gaw yes. I was reading along, thinking “Maybe they’ll get tired of struggling and then quit,” until I got to that bit. Now I think Bad Fit will never leave, especially since they’re being paid to essentially do nothing.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        I mean, would you? Be honest. If you knew you would never be fired, regardless of what work you did or did not do, would you give that up?
        Yeah, I’m the sort who takes pride in my work, but I can also understand the importance of a sure paycheck, especially in these uncertain times.

        1. Sasha*

          I don’t know when this letter was written, but in this current climate I wouldn’t blame anybody for staying put in a secure job.

        2. Karia*

          I think I would actually. I just quit a job because I couldn’t handle it. I’d find the stress of constantly failing way, way worse than the lure of a steady paycheque for doing nothing.

    8. JohannaCabal*

      Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I always thought “culture fit” is more about having the right person suited for the right role and company, e.g., someone who prefers a slower pace may not be a good fit for a fast-paced role with constantly changing demands.

      Has there been some sort of “culture fit” drift? I ask because I now see it being used as a tool for gatekeeping and ensuring groupthink.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Yeah, “cultural fit” is more about personality these days, not skills. It’s belonging to the right groups, having the right political beliefs, and toeing the party line. Like the modern version of the Good Old Boys, where you hired so-and-so because you know his daddy from the country club.

  3. Myrin*

    What a terribly frustrating situation, OP! I want to personally give the owners a smack up the head and I’m not even the one in this situation!

    What stuck out to me were the words of one of the owners, upon being confronted with your veritable mountain of legitimate reasons to part ways with Bad Fit: “Wow, Bad Fit would’ve been fired months ago at any other company, huh?”. That’s such a weird reaction that it gave me pause.
    Do they… pride themselves on being “nice”? On giving “nice people” chances and more chances and even more chances? On taking on those others would’ve thrown away (to put it harshly)? Because if that’s the case, I think you’re fighting a losing battle here. I have a feeling you’re doing that anyway, sadly, but if that’s the motivation, you won’t be able to change their way of thinking even with the most iron-clad, well thought-out argument there is.

    1. irene adler*

      Our “bad fit” employee was kept on because the CEO wanted it clear that “there’s a place for everyone at my company.”

      But no one wanted to manage “bad fit”. He was awful. Refused to take direction, thought he new better than the project manager how to carry out lab experiments.

      He was tolerated until the day after CEO was terminated.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Our Bad Fit stayed a trainee for about 7 years (we had an option for a yearlong trainee option for people who didn’t quite meet all the requirements for a promotion; it might no longer exist, but I knew some great staff who got promotions that way) was never put on a PIP, refused all offers to be moved into a lower-paying job she could actually do, refused to even try to do much of the job, actually threatened a coworker, and finally lost her job during mass layoffs. Were we bitter about basically doing her work & earning her pay for her? You bet we were. Then she got a nice severance package, & we were still understaffed but now had her tasks, too.

      2. PollyQ*

        “there’s a place for everyone at my company.”

        What a weird thing to boast about. Were they planning on hiring all 8+ billion living humans? With that kind of muddy thinking, it’s no wonder CEO was canned.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        “oh so there is a place here for a Charlie Manson type person?….. NO? But it’s okay to keep someone who is going to kill to your business? If you knew for a fact that this is the start of the company falling apart, what would you do now to stop that fall?”

      4. Karia*

        Similar situation. Our ‘bad fit’ at Old Company was also a personal employee of the CEO, so got away with some truly egregious behaviour. Fired a week or so after he left.

    2. Kenilf*

      Yes, I agree with Myrin. I have no additional advice beyond what Alison already gave.

      I do wonder 2 things:
      – has anyone ever been fired from this company? If so, are there any learnings from that you could apply?
      – does the company/owners brand themselves as people who can make the “impossible” possible? In addition to niceness, I’ve seen hubris also be a reason that some execs don’t want to be seen as having failed.

      1. Luke G*

        Your point on hubris is very insightful. As a manager it would feel like admitting defeat to have to fire someone I’d hired, or demote someone I’d promoted- a failure in choosing them and then a compound failure in not being able to turn them around. Definitely could be at play here.

        1. selena*

          Yes, that makes sense.
          If this is indeed about bragging rights for turning Bad Fit into a productive employee then it’s going to take *a lot* of pushback to change their minds (so much so that LW will almost certainly be better off giving up on this job)

      2. Just J.*

        Yes, this. And are there any other managers that can weigh in as well?

        At a past company, we had someone who was a Good Fit but over time became Bad Fit and needed to go. But he was one of the first hires when the company was in its infancy and the CEO felt loyalty to this person. It wasn’t until a couple of us managers banded together that we were able to get the CEO to see the light.

      3. Amaranth*

        I feel like there almost has to be more to this that management isn’t sharing with OP. Like BadFit is the son of a friend of the Big Boss, or has an invisible disability that makes management feel like they can’t take action in case they get sued (not understanding ADA in the slightest).

        1. selena*

          Disability (or some other kind of invisible minority status) was actually the first thing that came to my mind with this letter.
          Maybe because it’s a subject i’m close to.

          But if that’s the case i believe they are not actually scared of discrimination-lawsuits, but want to prove to themselves that they can ‘save’ some downtrodden person and unlock their hidden talents (every downtrodden person is a secret genius: Hollywood wouldn’t lie to me)

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            I’ve seen this happen, with an employee who either wasn’t diagnosed with the suspected disability or was diagnosed but never disclosed at work. It’s one of these things where the employer (at least in the parts of Canada I’m familiar with, but likely everywhere else too) can’t easily develop accommodations if they don’t know what’s going on or if the employee doesn’t know what they need to be successful.

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          That came to my mind, as well. I’ve dealt with two companies that had employees sue them after being fired. In both cases, the firings were completely justified, but the judges sided with the employee. One was deaf (and no, his being deaf was not a problem for training, nor was he the only deaf employee. Several employees, including his manager, were even fluent in ASL). The other was trans, and again, not the only trans employee, nor did anyone at the company care about his sex change.
          After that, though, those employees became untouchable, unmanageable, and unfireable. And, of course, they made their respective companies wary of hiring anyone else with ADA issues.

      4. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        These are some insightful points, that probably have even more of an impact if Bad Fit is an entry-level employee. Weak entry-level staffer + general reluctance to fire + senior leadership thinking they can make miracles happen adds up to an unworkable situation.

    3. Code Monkey the SQL*

      Yes, that’s an excellent point, and one that answering might give you some leverage to your argument, OP.

      If they are second (third, fourth, fifth)-chancers, you could phrase it as “BadFit deserves the opportunity to thrive somewhere else”, while if they are invested in the ‘being nice’ mindset, you can phrase it as “The kindest thing we can do is let BadFit know that it just isn’t working.”

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Oooh I like this. Maybe you could even take a page from the Machiavellian stories and apply to other jobs for her, lol.

        And also, its true. I had a friend-coworker who I loved and was the nicest friendliest person ever, but good God was she awful at her job. Just, really really incapable of it. Coworkers were mean to her, bosses were mean to her, everyone resented her for making them have to work harder. And finally, she got fired. Then she got hired at a different, completely different job, and within 6 months had a promotion, and 6 months later had another promotion, and 3 years later she’s one of the ‘rising stars’ of the company. All because she found somewhere that was a better fit for her skills.

        1. selena*

          That’s why i like that LW says ‘bad fit’ and not ‘bad emloyee’: who knows, maybe there’s a job out there where Bad Fit will thrive

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            I honestly believe there is a good job for everyone. The problem is, we only teach kids about a handful of them, and treat many others as being shameful in some way.
            Not everyone is suited to an office job. Some folks need hands-on work. Some need outdoor work. Some need very repetitive or simple tasks. Some are people persons, while others aren’t. Some are great at sitting in a basement filing all day. Some like to fix things. Some like to organize. Some need to be solving problems and putting out fires, while others want calm and low-pressure
            jobs. Some folks want to work alone, some want socialization. Some are self-starters. Others need a regimen and oversight.
            There’s all kinds of workers, and there are all kinds of jobs out there.

            1. Karia*

              This. We promote the idea that one kind of customer / client focused office job is the ideal and get confused when it doesn’t work for everyone.

        2. JohannaCabal*

          I’ve been in the same situation as your friend. Fortunately, my bad fit role was only three months. In my next job I soared and I suspect I would have moved further except I left for a new opportunity in a different area.

          OP, your company is doing a real disserve to Bad Fit.

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        These are both really fantastic ways of framing the issue, especially given that BadFit has been on a PIP. My concern with it, though, is that it might not work if you’re dealing with people who either want to keep moving the goalposts for BadFit *or* don’t really see thriving at work as important. If you’re dealing with senior management who fall into the latter category (and there are people who think this way), all kindness looks like is ensuring that BadFit continues to receive a paycheque.

    4. juliebulie*

      Or BadFit has pictures of the naked owners being spanked by Mickey Mouse.

      Maybe suggest to the owners to no longer assign BadFit any tasks. BadFit can stay at home and collect a paycheck. That way they don’t have to fire BadFit, and BadFit doesn’t get in everyone else’s way.


      (Maybe your workplace sucks and isn’t going to change?)

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        BadFit can stay at home and collect a paycheck.

        Remote work! Have BadFit generate a weekly report about something useless and file the salary expense under “overhead.”

      2. Ginger ale for all*

        Or assign bad fit to be a personal assistant to the owners so they can see and experience bad fit on a daily basis. Perhaps the owners can come up with simple basic tasks for bad fit to do.

        1. Green great dragon*

          Oh this is an excellent idea. Maybe he will turn out to be a perfectly competent PA, if it’s a completely different set of skills (unlikely I know). But if not, I bet he’s gone soon enough.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I was hoping someone suggested this.

          We hired a person at one place I worked. I was mistaken, she was a statue not a person. She would pick a spot and stand in that spot for her entire shift. I would not be able to do this because the boredom would kill me, so I actually marveled at her ability to stay in one exact spot and do nothing for 6 hours or longer.

          When I complained to the boss, some how her lack of progress was my fault. I said, fine, you take her. I don’t think she even got through a full shift with the boss. The next day I found out she had been fired. I should have done that much sooner.

          I think you should assign or give him to the bosses. They can figure out what to do. In my situation it never occurred to my boss that I had trained A LOT of people. They were all fine, so why was this one so different.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      My sister once worked for a firm that turned out to never ever fire an employee. Regardless of what they’d done or not done, the answer was ‘but we don’t want to cause a family to go hungry/homeless/in trouble due to someone losing their job so we keep everyone’.

      Ultimately the company suffered for this because the people who were good, did well, and were sick of picking up other’s work/dealing with lazy coworkers/being the subject of bigoted remarks just upped and left and the firm was left with these people they were ‘not heartless enough to fire’.

      My sister left too, after trying to get the managers there to understand that they were crippling their own business through their actions. But they didn’t listen even when presented with figures of how much it was costing them in revenue to keep these poor performers on the payroll. Some were very nice people, just utterly clueless and unwilling or unable to fix that. Others were outright lazy, harsh, entitled, but all were treated the same.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Even charities have standards about who they’ll support! This lot didn’t. People were literally allowed to say whatever they wanted, even hurl abuse at other staff and in one extreme case smack them on the rear.

          Think the company has gone under now. I know sis was in charge of finance and jumped ship pretty fast. Don’t think many people purchased from a firm whose salespeople were not reprimanded for calling customers names to their faces.

      1. GothicBee*

        Yikes. Companies like that need to learn that the answer to “we don’t want someone to suffer financially by being fired” is paying your employees decently while they’re employed and offering a severance package when they fire someone. Better to pay them to leave than pay them to stick around poisoning the well for however long they feel like.

        1. selena*

          …Better to pay them to leave than pay them to stick around poisoning the well for however long they feel like…


        2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Yes. The other part of that answer is having clear expectations and training to help employees understand exactly what they need to do to keep getting paid.

      2. Sara without an H*

        I once worked for a university library like this. We had people on the payroll for years who couldn’t do their jobs, couldn’t get along with anybody, or both. But we kept them because senior leadership was “compassionate.” The effect on staff morale was…not good.

      3. Gumby*

        On one hand, that sounds horrifying. OTOH, at least you know that you could stop doing your job at all and job search openly from your desk (or watch TV or whatever) and you aren’t going to be fired either. Long term, the company is going down and even if it doesn’t it’s majorly disheartening. Short term it is a super-low stress job in that you don’t actually have to do work to keep getting the paycheck.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        ‘but we don’t want to cause a family to go hungry/homeless/in trouble due to someone losing their job so we keep everyone’.
        … NO, instead we will keep the business until it’s run into the ground and everyone can be hungry/homeless all that the same time.

      5. Karia*

        My mother used to work for her local council (local government effectively).

        They pretty much just refused to fire anyone, so you’d have bad employees slacking off with impunity and good employees ending up on sick leave because they were trying to handle three jobs. It was such a disservice to everyone involved.

  4. SMH*

    I would add that this is how companies are sued for discrimination. They keep bad fit but later fire poor performer who now knows all about bad fit and they file a discrimination suit because they were treated differently, specifically held to a different standard, and terminated.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep. Or they finally get fed up with the bad performer and fire them after years … and it happens to be not long after the person got pregnant or sick or found religion, and so the person understandably assumes it was about that, not their performance … and the company can’t prove it wasn’t since they let the problems go on for years.

      1. Anon (and on and on)*

        Yep. I had a situation like this with a manager when I was doing HR. She came to me and said “so-and-so is on an FMLA leave and it’s made me realize how toxic she is and I’d like to fire her when she comes back.” Major facepalm! Of course, some issues were documented in her appraisal but they were far outweighed by positive feedback.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          OMG, lol. Sometimes I wish I had gone into HR to hear stories like this up close, but then I probably would have been fired for saying, “Are you f%£€*!g kidding?!”

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, took us 3 years to get rid of one abysmal worker at one place, despite them only showing up for work when they felt like it (once a month), never actually working while they were in the office and all that. The day we finally fired him he said it was obviously because he was gay and thus began a massive long lawsuit.

        (He came out as gay apparently 2 hours before coming into work on that last day. No large company HR can run a firing THAT fast. He won though.)

          1. selena*

            If the performance issues were there the entire 3 years and the coming-out happened just before the firing i suppose he could argue that the latter was obviously the *real* reason he had to go.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Yes, but he claimed he’d not come to work because he was ‘scared of bullying’ and while he couldn’t prove there had been any, we couldn’t prove that nobody had ever called him a worthless layabout either (several coworkers had, outside of work though).


        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          We had someone similar to that, but we managed to win because his shenanigans DURING THE TRIAL pissed off the judge. My org actually initially offered him a generous settlement just to make him go away because trials are expensive and bad publicity, but he refused. In the end he not only got nothing, he had to pay the legal fees for everyone.

          1. Heffalump*

            I’m guessing you’re in the UK. Usually in the USA, each party to a lawsuit pays their own legal bills, regardless of the outcome.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              No, the judge can order legal fees be paid by the lower. The one case I was personally involved in, my legal fees were ordered to be paid by the other side.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            One of my favourite encounters with the legal system was when the person trying to defend themselves from a very true accusation of stealing from the company went into a bizarre profanity fuelled rant about how ‘women are all liars’ and got thrown out by the female judge. You could almost see ‘wtf’ and ‘man I’m going to laugh about this later’ cross her face.

  5. Ellie May*

    I left a job because of a similar situation. I was successful and highly valued across the organization. My boss pressured me into hiring someone I didn’t want to hire (I never understood why and no, they didn’t know each other previously). The person was incapable of performing the job. It annoyed others on the team to have to work around my Bad Fit. My boss would not allow me to fire Bad Fit, likely because she was afraid I’d think (not SAY), “I told you so.” And so it cost my boss ME. I found a great job, closer to home, working with folks that respected my opinion and secured a 30% raise in pay. There is a cost to be paid and this company will pay it in some form or another.

    1. YouwantmetodoWHAT?! *

      Did you tell them that this was one of the reasons that you left?I really hope that you did!

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        It wouldn’t matter. Bosses who don’t want to be wrong don’t hear things of a critical nature.

    2. Mad Harry Crewe*

      I left my last position for a lot of reasons, but one of them was that I wasn’t allowed to fire an absolutely AWFUL Brad Fitt. I had reams of PIPs and emails and conversations with the C-suite where I was assured that this was her last chance, and yet somehow… it never was. She performed really well on flat sales numbers and abysmally on everything else, including customer communication and feedback.

      1. Anon for Now*

        My department coordinates with a sales department whose manager only cares about those sales numbers. Everything else is just a growth opportunity. And, you can keep bringing it up, they won’t try to tell you it isn’t a problem, but they’ll just keep giving the same excuse for the people over and over again.

  6. Mel_05*

    I’ve worked at a place that wouldn’t fire poor performers. Wouldn’t fire someone who literally just sat outside and smoked for 4 hours of the work day or multiple people who constantly messed up orders and made our clients angry.

    They quit, because they felt unappreciated! But not before it tank morale in a big way.
    They company also lost some high performers along the way, but I actually think they lost them due to other mismanagement and not the thousand chances they gave to terrible employees!

    But it does destroy any motivation to go above and beyond. By the end of my time there I was not a great employee either, because why?

    1. beanie gee*

      I quit a job where I was a high performer because poor performers were not only not fired/managed/held accountable for their performance, they were rewarded by being given less work because no one wanted them to handle much responsibility.

      Companies like this will lose their best employees and keep their worst employees forever.

      1. Jinni*

        OMG. I was reading this post and responses and kept thinking of a friend’s situation (their BadFit would call off work for hurt feelings often, then when they showed up wouldn’t work because…. – still there 22 years later because she has a ‘family’)

        Then I remembered I left a professional services job for this reason. An underperforming employee came into my office early on and asked why I (a high performer) was there as this was an organization for losers. She was right. People stopped showing up (literally) and I was hired to pick up the slack of those at home. That stuck with me and I left a few months later. Oh and a new practice of requiring exempt employees to login when they arrived or went to the bathroom. (That was because, of course, because of the employees who didn’t show up).

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Oh jeez… I think I worked with the person who came up with the bathroom rules. I took over a team from her and wow… strangest conversation I had ever had.

          Employee: Umm since you’re not on site, should we email you when we go to the bathroom
          Me: umm what, no! why would you do that?
          Employee: Oh we had to when we worked for Molly Micromanager… bathroom or any time we were away from our desks.
          Me: Oh hell no… I’m assuming you are all professionals and adults. I don’t care if you go to the bathroom… actually I highly encourage it, being a necessary function and all.

          Molly Micromanager also had different rules for the different people on her team doing the same job. Ughh… it’s no wonder they were all underperformers. The good ones left.

        2. Birdie*

          Did she actually cite hurt feelings as the reason she wasn’t coming in? Because that is both hilarious and absurd.

          1. Jinni*

            So…yes. One time is was that her son had started working at a cupcake bakery, and no one had thanked her for brining in day old cupcakes. Another it was that one of the professionals she worked for had forgotten to wish her a happy birthday or Merry Christmas. I could go on…

    2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      “If the owners want to keep someone on staff doing nothing,”
      let it be you, OP. Well not exactly. In fact, doing nothing is what they TOLD you to do.
      They asked you to delegate work that BF can do successfully. If there is none, there is none.
      Are your staff hourly/salary non exempt? Give them the over time.
      And finally, let things not get done.
      “A, B and C take this much time, so X, Y and Z will have to wait.”
      Have BF do it.
      “BF can’t do it. The last time(s) the result was…”
      Throw this garbage back on the higher ups.

  7. KHB*

    If the owners are so reluctant to fire Bad Fit that they’re willing to make up a do-nothing position for them, could you ask that that position report directly to the owners, rather than to you? Depending on the company structure, this may not work, but it could help to formalize the idea that Bad Fit is Not Your Problem anymore.

    1. Myrin*

      I actually thought that was an intrinsic part of Alison’s second option but upon re-reading, I now realise that’s not the case. So yeah, I would support that!

      1. KHB*

        Maybe, but not necessarily – I guess this is part of what I meant by “depending on the structure of the company.” If this is one of those organizations where anyone who reports directly to the Big Boss is perceived as outranking anyone who doesn’t, then yeah, that’s suboptimal in this case. But I don’t think all organizations are like that.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Sometimes that is the best result. Ultimately, I don’t care if someone gets ahead at work if it means they are just farther away from me.
        Or so I tell myself in my more mellow moments.
        “Karma, would you rather have Bad Fit working with you or working over there?”
        I want Bad Fit out!
        “Karma, that’s not up to you.”
        I know but, it’s just not right.
        “Karma, if you happier now that Bad Fit is gone, does it matter where?
        YES. Ok, no. But,
        “No buts.”
        Then yes.
        (I’m so chill.)

          1. Tupac Coachella*

            My favorite curse on incompetent/unpleasant coworkers is “I hope they win the lottery”…because then they’ll buy a fabulous beach house far, far away and I’ll never have to deal with them again.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              I did spend about a year encouraging my abusive boss to buy lottery tickets in hopes that she’d win big, move to the tropics, and leave me alone.

    2. Helen J*

      That is great idea! Similar to making it so uncomfortable that a manager doesn’t want to manage, they have no other option.

  8. Luke G*

    The comments from management about “they’d have been fired long ago at any other place” and that “they’re a nice person and fit our culture” makes me thing you’ve got upper management who’s invested in being seen as “nice” or “not like those other awful cutthroat companies.” Unfortunately this is manifesting itself as being averse to conflict or consequences.

    If I were in your shoes I’d lean the hardest on Alison’s wording about it making more work for the rest of the team while destroying their morale. Sometimes bosses like this get so invested in greasing the squeaky wheel and not making one poor performer happy, they don’t notice until it’s far too late that all the other wheels are about to jump off the axles and go start a new life as unicycles. If they are that worried about being nice, they may react well to the realization that they’re being NOT nice to everyone else.

    Of course, if they’re blind enough in this, they may convince themselves that “BF is so nice that anyone who has a problem with them must be the real problem!”

    1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your wording: “…all the other wheels are about to jump off the axels and go start a new life as unicycles.” I love it!

      1. Luke G*

        I was THIS close to saying “all the other wheels are about to leave the cart” and then I was visited by divine inspiration. Of course, that means I wasted divine inspiration on a dumb unicycle joke, but I’ll take it as it comes.

    2. Grey Coder*

      I work with a Bad Fit and your characterization of our management is spot on — highly conflict averse, lots of noise about being supportive etc. BF has been passed from manager to manager without improvement. I was at the sharp end for a while as half of BF’s responsibilities were falling to me, even though we have very different roles. Fortunately, BF has now been mostly sidelined from my day-to-day, replaced with Highly Competent New Hire.

      I still sometimes wonder why should I make an effort at work when our culture supports incompetence, but management will never see it that way.

  9. SD*

    Maybe lean on how much money this is costing the company plus the real danger of losing good employees who are feeling used and not valued? If anyone has been complaining to you about Bad Fit, work that into your Last Ditch appeal.

    1. Torrance*

      Focusing on the money aspect might blow up in the OP’s face; it sounds like the owners are more focused on people than profits and, by coming at this from a purely mercenary/monetary viewpoint, the OP themselves might come out of this looking like the ‘bad fit’.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – I think it would be better to focus on the cost to them in loosing the good employees who are pulling “bad fits” work weight. Also, maybe work in if there isn’t a resolution that others think is fair then those others will be gone.

        (And I guarantee that some of those good employees are looking for new jobs.)

      2. selena*

        If the owners are okay with Bad Fit doing busywork well below their paygrade than arguments about Bad Fit costing the company money won’t work at all.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Eh, you can still roll with it. “So if everyone here become a poor performer tomorrow, then we would keep them all because it’s the right thing to do?”
        And of course they say, we are talking about one poor performer not everyone.
        “Okay so if everyone quits because BF gets paid the same as they do but they have to work and BF doesn’t, now what? How does the company function with everyone gone?”

  10. Nesprin*

    I work with a Bad Fit, and its killing my morale-the fact that bad work isnt being recognized or dealt with is contributing to my burnout. Were supposed to be colleagues, but my BadFit cant be counted on to do her work independently and has taken credit for my work more than im comfortable with. If im asked to take one for the team one more time, im considering quitting.
    My point with all this is that your Bad Fit isnt just costing you her salary and time to do her work, shes also costing you good employees.

    1. Not_Today_Maybe_Tomorrow*

      Same, except the BadFit was my boss and caused a year of stress, extra work, ridicule (from other departments because she was SO BAD), and tension that made it seem we just “couldn’t get along” even though the real issue was her complete and total incompetence. As in, people would hide in meetings to not be rude and show they were dying laughing at her idiocy.
      In the end BadFit was laid off—but so was I, because I let it go on too long and it impacted the value people found from our department. The work was absorbed elsewhere over several people (as part of many rounds of layoffs). So yes, you’ll lose employees or worst case, go down with the ship.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          If boss is the one planning the projects and assigning the work, and they keep changing priorities & targets, their group will always be behind schedule, and might never finish anything. In that case, the worker bees look bad. Especially if boss talks a good talk. I’ve seen that happen and I was very lucky to have been assigned to support another group that had real project management independent from my direct manager.
          (To paraphrase L.Frank Baum… “a very good person, but a very bad wizard.”)

      1. crookedfinger*

        My BadFit was my boss, too. She technically passed her PIP so they left her alone, but eventually she quit. My BadFit was very good at talking people into believing she knew what she was doing when she didn’t and couldn’t be bothered to learn… I covered for her for a while, just to keep things moving along (we were both new to the dept), but eventually I gave up so my name wouldn’t be dragged through the mud with hers. Almost a year later and my new boss is still working to rebuild trust in our department.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      has taken credit for my work more than im comfortable with

      Any amount over zero should fit that description. If you’ve been asked to take one for the team, it’s already time to be looking for other work. This job isn’t doing you or the accomplishments on your resume any favors; find something that will!

  11. CatCat*

    I’m definitely team “assign no substantive work.” I mean, it doesn’t sound like you can get fired here for not doing your job at this place. Soooooo…

    1. Luke G*

      I would be afraid it would bite me in the ass if I tried that long-term, but it DOES sound like this is a company that values superficial agreeability over quality. OP could save the hassle, stop trying to truly manage Bad Fit, instead focus on keeping Bad Fit placated while putting on a nice agreeable face to management, and start actively job hunting.

      That way you don’t have to worry that in a few years your slacking catches up to you- you take the good reference (after all you’re such a great fit!) and run with it. Easier said than done, I suppose.

  12. Zombeyonce*

    I wonder if OP can tell the owners that the other employees no longer have the bandwidth to continue doing all of Bad Fit’s tasks and ask if they can now hire someone to do the work that Bad Fit can’t do.

    “We can’t afford to pay a new person to do that work because we’re still paying Bad Fit!” the owners will say. “Of course not,” OP says, “so can we give Bad Fit 2 weeks severance and hire a new person that can do the job?”

    1. SomehowIManage*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Either they duplicate the headcount or fire BadFit.

      Btw, am I the only one who reads Brad Pitt every single time I see BadFit?

  13. Louise*

    All I can say LW is I have been there and it sucks. I finally got rid of bad fit but just doing more and more of bad fit’s job myself because that was fastest. It honestly was easier for me to do two jobs then deal with bad fit. With a few exception the entire company started avoiding bad fit except for the owner unless is was an absolute necessity and then there was written follow-up. It only changed when the owner had to keep dealing with bad fit on projects directly that it was no long my ability to manage or my co-workers ability to work with them that the owner realized something had to change. The whole experience told me a lot about company standards and acceptable behavior and it was a painful period of being over worked while dealing with incompetency.

  14. SC*

    We had a Bad Fit on our team years back, and one night at happy hour I cajoled my supervisor into telling me the real scoop– management told her that he was moving to the team whether she liked it or not (she would not have hired him otherwise!) because he was a “loyal employee” who would stick with the company through thick and thin. He was a disaster: did not learn the job (and showed no interest in making an effort to do so), made a TON of mistakes, and cleaning up after him drove me to therapy. He was 100% incompetent and management turned a blind eye. I’m sorry to say, OP, but this is probably a losing battle if mgmt already decided that Bad Fit is going to stay.

    1. Dave*

      Ah yes the employee loyalty card. I remember one of those people. She was lovely. Always came to work. Sucked at her job. I did a happy dance when she was finally no longer employed. (I think it ended up being mutual but it took way to long.)

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Oh man. Maybe management kept him around because they knew he was sick and needed the health insurance.

          1. SC*

            I….never thought about that. I left the company before he passed, but it’s a plausible explanation for him staying employed despite being completely and totally incompetent at the job.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Oh ugh…loyalty. One of my managers planned on moving a terrible employee to me, saying “He doesn’t like his current manager but he’s agreed to try you out as a manager. He doesn’t really like to be managed and he may refuse to do any work you give him. If that happens. Let me know. He will do the work for me. He’s very loyal to me because he knows I saved his job.” I said “If he refuses to do the work I assign, I will document every instance and fire him.” (I was with the company far longer and had a lot of capital to spend.) The employee didn’t get moved over to report to me. Shocking, I know.

  15. Amethystmoon*

    Sounds like the OP inherited my former coworker. I worked with my Bad Fit for just over 3 years, and started looking for another job after the first year or so. It was clear my Bad Fit was in way over his head, but for some bizarre reason, the upper managers would not get rid of him. It was to the point where I was spending hours fixing his mistakes, most of which could have been prevented by going slower and paying more attention. I finally left for a new job in a different division of the company, and have been here a couple of years now. Heard my Bad Fit left our company on his own not long after I left. Hopefully he is doing better in that position.

  16. EPLawyer*

    Yeah, don’t put anyone on a PIP if you aren’t going to fire them. Not your fault OP, this on the owners. If the owners knew they would never fire the guy they should never have done the PIP. Why should ANYONE in the company bother to improve now? They know they won’t be fired. It sends the wrong message. If you have to use a PIP, you have to be prepared to fire the person.

    Unfortunately, the owners can do what they want. You can’t be more loyal to the company’s success than the owners. If you can’t live with the concept that nice is more important than competent at your job (and I am totally support this attitude there are plenty of nice AND competent people looking for work right now you could hire someone who fits both criteria), it’s time for you to move on. You’ve done what you can at this company. Believe me, when other employees see you can get paid to do nothing, they will either 1) do nothing also which takes the business or 2) find other jobs leaving only the nice but incompetent people, which tanks the business. Either way, this business is in trouble. Save yourself. It’s not your job to save the business.

    1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      Wait, so you’re saying a PIP should 100% of the time have a firing outcome? That it’s not possible every once in a while to actually see improvement out of the PIP and not have to fire the person?

        1. EPLawyer*

          What Alison said. I’m reading AAM and trying to work at the same time. All the words don’t end up in the right place.

          Don’t use a PIP if you aren’t willing to impose the consequences of no improvement. Of course, if they improve, keep them on.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            Yes, PIPs are a final warning: fix this or be fired. If you’re not willing to actually fire the person, there’s no point to the PIP.
            Not saying all PIPS do or should result in firings. Just that it needs to be an option, should the employee fail to improve.

  17. staceyizme*

    Small organizations are often notoriously bad at firing people. They equate it with the death penalty. Why don’t you let him languish? Don’t give him any work and don’t loop him in. If he complains, let him know that you have expended all the resources that you have to get him up to speed. Try to negotiate a neutral reference in lieu of firing, if your owner allows. But, seriously. Get mean. Professionally, of course. Make it as uncomfortable as possible for him to suck up space.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I have seen this strategy used successfully on a senior librarian with tenure who was both unproductive and surly about it. He was given a small office, no budget, no direct reports, and a nice title that meant nothing. Then he was ignored. It may be the only way out for OP, IF there’s someplace where Bad Fit can be stored and remain harmless.

    2. Anonosaurus*

      law firms have been doing this for generations – if the partners don’t like someone they stop giving them any work until he or she figures it out. it is not a perfect solution but it is the conflict avoidant solution. unfortunately it only works if Bad Fit, Esq., has enough self respect to realize it’s time to move on or continue losing face, which sounds beyond this individual’s level of insight.

      1. Birdie*

        Yeah, at my last job, the big boss pushed someone out by creating a position that was, for all intents and purposes, the same job as one that already existed, just with a higher title and 100% focused on one area of responsibility instead of 70% focused on that area. Big boss insisted the current guy wasn’t getting fired but there was clearly no use for his position if 70% of his duties were going elsewhere. This guy was encouraged to apply for the new position and went through the hoops of applying for the job he already did. Eventually, it became clear that the boss had NO intention of giving him the new position and he got the hell out before they’d even confirmed the new hire. But yeah, he was reasonably self-aware and had some professional pride (and actually was good at the work – the boss just didn’t like him). I’m not at all confident it would work with Bad Fit.

  18. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Since the owners have hire AND fire responsibility, then firing Bad Fit means that the owners made a mistake in hiring that employee in the first place. Right? So they’re probably embarrassed and don’t want to confront their own errors.

    What happens when the owners make other kinds of mistakes – underbidding a job, for example. Do they admit to their mistakes, or do they deflect the blame on something or someone else?

    If they can’t ever admit that they are wrong, then that’s more strong evidence that OP needs to get out.

  19. anon39*

    An option I’d consider is telling bad fit the following (providing it’s true)

    Based on your performance I can’t see any realistic possibility for promotion, meaningful raises or bonuses while you remain with us. We’ve given you all the support we can in your current role with us. The best we can do is find other work for you to do at a lower level, and we cannot guarantee this will remain possible indefinitely.

    I’ve had some positive comments regarding your personality (no need to say this is from the owners) and the way you embrace our culture, but feel that you would benefit from looking at other careers based on your skill set where you can excel and have better opportunities to advance.

    We’re happy to give you time in your workday to explore those opportunities, and I’m happy to help you when I have the time with any resumes or interview techniques to help you get a better career more suited to you.

    1. Rachel in NYC*

      I actually had a job where someone’s task eventually became applying for new jobs. He went on vacation and someone needed something from his desk- there was a question about something. It quickly became evident that he hadn’t been keeping up on his work for months. A lot of money was spent apologizing to clients (this was a law firm so the firm paid late fees for any clients’ impacted filings) and he was given no more tasks.

      It wasn’t pretty.

  20. TeapotNinja*

    I really don’t understand how the owners can justify spending money on someone who is a net negative contributor. Maybe that’s the angle to take next time you have discussions about the matter?

    If you can’t convince the owners to fire Bad Fit, you’re going to have to minimize the damage and hope Bad Fit leaves on their own. Maybe don’t assign Bad Fit any work. None at all. When/If Bad Fit asks for more work, tell them the kitchen needs cleaning or some other menial work Bad Fit would feel beneath Bad Fit’s awesomeness. Hopefully Bad Fit will get the hint, and isn’t one of the types of people who actually prefers to do nothing.

    The “can I get a raise” question was also an opening for you to tell Bad Fit there will be no raise, ever, at the company.

    1. Artemesia*

      The work is getting done and they don’t have to deal with the daily annoyance or doing the work he doesn’t do

    2. Amaranth*

      Maybe send BadFit home with a laptop and a research project. Or put in a corner doing data entry so the rest of the team doesn’t have to disparity in the level of work.

  21. Krabby*

    This is so odd to me, particularly considering there is documentation and no nepotism involved. Do the owners just really hate firing people? Maybe you could put all the paperwork together or volunteer to hold the meeting? If you take that on yourself so that they don’t have to lift a finger…?

    But honestly, this is just so bizarre I can’t figure out why the owners have such loyalty to this person.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      no nepotism involved

      It wasn’t stated anywhere in the question, so this is speculation on my part, but my first feeling about this letter was that Bad Fit has ‘something’ (other than what was explicitly stated – that they are so nice, and a good culture fit, etc) causing the owners to protect them – not necessarily that they are a relative/associate of the owners per se, but some kind of history or something unknown to the OP.

      They have made up a position out of their own pocket that seems essentially a sinecure / busy-work for this person to keep them employed, why? As owners, that cost hits them personally, not just a budget in HR somewhere.

      1. Can't Fire*

        Letter writer here! As Krabby suggests, the truth is just that the owners hate firing people, apparently to the point where they would rather take a huge financial hit than admit that things didn’t work out. It has only been in cases of truly epic shenanigans that anybody has been fired here. I don’t think there’s any nepotism involved, but the one thing I can think of that I might not know about but that the owners might would be if Bad Fit has a disability of some kind.

    2. Khatul Madame*

      You can’t be sure there is no nepotism involved. I am 90% sure there is a family or “tribal” (for lack of a better word) connection between the owners and the Bad Fit person. 3% misplaced leniency and 7% fear of litigation if Bad Fit belongs to a protected class.
      I also think that the owners were messing with the LW’s head when they cited the company culture as the reason to keep the Bad Fit.

  22. Luke G*

    OP I’m curious- is your company always this reluctant to fire anybody? Or is this one Bad Fit getting an unusual amount of leeway?

    My company used to have a reputation for never firing anyone, even for some pretty heinous misconduct. It wasn’t great, but it made it a little easier to understand that it was just how the company was. You mentioned your firm is growing- could this attitude be a holdover from the “us against the world” closely knit early days of a small company? That’s how it was for us, and with pressure from managers like you we’ve slowly righted course on that issue.

    If this person’s bulletproof status is the exception rather than the rule, it would make me wonder if there was something more insidious like someone in upper management taking a personal interest in keeping them around, no matter what. That’s harder to correct because it’s more deliberate.

  23. Elle by the sea*

    Well, growing firms can’t afford a poor performer like Bad Fit. For this very reason, it’s an incredibly foolish decision on the part of the higher level management to create an easier role for this person and preserve them as a resource-eating black hole, essentially. My suspicion in such cases is always that the employee in question is a relative or a friend of someone in the C-suite, but I could be fundamentally wrong.

  24. Gail Davidson Durst*

    My husband was a team lead and was told from above he had to keep a totally incompetent, counterproductive worker on his team. After exhausting reasonable arguments, he literally told the guy to go to the corner and hold up the walls. Pretty soon the guy asked to go to another team. Husband survived this maneuver because he was well known as a hugely valuable asset customers loved. Attempt only if you have epic leverage!

    1. Elle by the sea*

      This is the best reaction I have ever heard! It made me laugh out loud! But yeah, you have to have a capital to pull it off!

  25. cmmj*

    I know this is a stretch but….is there a low-stakes project that that you can allow them to fail at (that could be easily fixed by a competent employee)? Or even something you could intercept and show the owners before it gets fixed?

    It sounds like the owners haven’t experienced any of the consequences of their bad work so it’s easy for them to brush it off, especially if they aren’t usually working directly with Bad Fit. If you can say “look, we’ve been over this but I gave them a chance to succeed in this very regular part of their job as this is what their product is before good employees fix it, this is what we risk putting out, and what you are paying other employees to fix” it might be a bigger wake up call.

    It seems like they’re feeling defensive of this employee, so maybe framing it as “I am advocating for all of my employees, not attacking Bad Fit” it might help break their rut of feeling obligated to keep Bad Fit on. There are plenty of nice people out there who can do this job! It’s good that the owners care about this employee, but they should care about their other employees as well. Based on them saying BF is nice as a good culture fit, but others commenting on a bad attitude, it sounds like they haven’t actually spent much time directly working with BF and are finding ways to rationalize their performance instead of going through another hiring process. Perhaps if they see how this employee operates without the safety net of coworkers, they might be more motivated to find another hire. Have you given concrete examples of how this has impacted the daily workload for the others, or even just documented anonymous feedback from people who work directly with them? I know you said they’ve complained (rightfully!) but it’s unclear how many of these direct comments made it to the big bosses. It’s great that they’ve given this person a chance, but this has got to be a huge morale killer (I know I’m preaching to the choir!) and they should be aware of that instead of focusing on finding a pity job for someone who doesn’t even seem aware at the impact of their incompetence.
    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, please make it clear (if you haven’t already) to the other employees that you’re aware of the difficulties and are trying to advocate for them. Even when a manager can’t fully solve something, knowing they’re also frustrated with how a situation is impacting employees can help personal morale.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Possible idea (do not know if this would work with your company):
      Have all the other employees who have legitimate complaints about Bad Fit take them directly to owners/management that don’t want to fire Bad Fit. This may make it way more obvious to Owners just what impact Bad Fit is having on everyone else.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        That’s sometimes a good way to put those employees in harm’s way. My concern would be that the owners pride themselves on tolerance (of Bad Fit) so much that they wouldn’t hesitate to fire/PIP those who make a big deal of not being able to tolerate Bad Fit.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – that’s why I said work complaints, like “I did not get X from Bad Fit so I am not able complete Y and Z.” Maybe a better way of putting it would be to have other employees who are struggling with something work related/seeing a work impact related to Bad Fit and have them take it to managers that don’t want to let Bad Fit go. From the letter it looked as if so far only OP is telling managers about the problems, maybe it would be taken more seriously if more people were all saying the same things.
          I think complaints like “Bad Fit didn’t smile at me or say Hi” belong in middle school.

    2. Anonosaurus*

      Came here to say something similar. The owners are being shielded from the consequences of Bad Fit’s incompetence. They won’t change their minds until that starts to happen (although possibly not even then). I think it’s time for Bad Fit to fail and be seen to fail at something important which has an impact on something the owners care about – although of course that is risky for OP and for the business overall.

      You can’t manage with both hands tied behind your back plus a blindfold on and a small gremlin jumping up and down on your head any time you try to make a management decision. I don’t know if I’d spend any more time trying to save the owners from themselves here if it was me.

      1. Disco Janet*

        Excellent idea. I recall a last AMA where something similar came up, and the OP was constantly fixing their coworker’s mistakes. I think Alison said to stop doing that and let them experience the consequences of their own actions (providing no one will get hurt, of course).

  26. Magenta Sky*

    When you have the responsibility for a bad employee, but not the authority to fire them, you’re not a manager, you’re a blame boy. Your sole job is to be blamed for the owner’s bad decisions.

  27. Abin too*

    The second suggestion seems like what the owners have already directed. In my mind, giving him the easier busywork is pretty much the same as not giving him substantive work.

  28. jcarnall*

    If you don’t want to make this “Fire Bad Fit or I Quit” moment, LW, is there any chance you can put Bad Fit somewhere a bit separate from the rest of the team, and literally give him nothing to do?

    Tell him “Sorry. You failed your PIP. The work we do on this team is beyond you. There isn’t anything I can give you to do that won’t just cause more work for the rest of the team. Obviously, you won’t get a raise, because you failed your PIP. All I can suggest is that you sit there and stay out of the way.”

    Tell senior management that trying to split work up so that Bad Fit only gets the easy jobs he’s more or less capable of doing is just going to create more work for the rest of the team, and so while you take the point you don’t want him fired, you also don’t want a situation where everyone on the team resents him for making more work for them – better to spread the workload evenly across the whole team and let Bad Fit just sit there.”

    And if you can, remove Internet access from his computer. If he’s literally got nothing to do all day except sit there, maybe he’ll see the light and quit?

  29. learnedthehardway*

    Perhaps a couple of different tactics might help:

    1. Push back on the owners’ assertions that Bad Fit is a good cultural fit – point out that he’s actually all talk and no action, and that he’s increasingly a drain on morale, on other employees’ motivation, and his unproductive presence is leading to conflict and resentment, wrecking other employees’ work/life balance, causing you dissatisfaction in your role, etc. It should be obvious that there will be a business impact such as good employees leaving and clients losing confidence in the company, but since the owners are hung up on cultural fit, it might work better to refute their assertion that Bad Fit is a good cultural fit, and to provide concrete examples. Once you’ve gotten the owners to start realizing that Bad Fit really doesn’t fit the culture they want, and that other people are suffering, it will be easier for them to see the business consequences as unacceptable, rather than an acceptable sacrifice for the greater cultural good.

    2. If the business owners are the type to be fraught by guilt over letting Bad Fit go, point out that it is not in Bad Fit’s interests to be consigned to a role in which they will never succeed, with colleagues who do not respect them and who increasingly resent them for not pulling their weight, and where there will be no opportunities for advancement. Sure, Bad Fit is drawing a salary, but they can’t possibly be achieving job satisfaction in a role they are failing in so abjectly. Point out that it is better to let Bad Fit go now, and to find a role that they can be successful in, rather than to retain them. Perhaps – if the owners are especially concerned about not letting Bad Fit go during an economic downturn – negotiate that the employee will be given a period of severance to help them get back on their feet. (Feel free to point out that Bad Fit being out on severance would make the entire team more productive, including yourself .)

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      “Nice people” who are a “good cultural fit” don’t have lousy attitudes.

      As a manager and *especially* a small business owner, I have to remind myself constantly that I only see my employees’ best attitudes and nicest selves during our interactions. Sounds like these people don’t remember that. If that’s what they value, maybe start documenting those problems–though you shouldn’t have to.

  30. Derf*

    I managed a Bad Fit. He was hired because he was involved in an intermural sport with my boss, who owned the company. I didn’t like how he came across in the interview but I was overruled. He showed up late on a daily basis, learned none of the technical information required for the job, made constant mistakes and ‘hid’ them, lied to clients and customers and was patronizing and rude to our (more capable) female staffers.

    Big Boss refused to fire him and insinuated that I wasn’t trying hard enough to train him or ‘be nice’ to him. I eventually quit because he’d poisoned morale at our business and I was tired of cleaning up his messes. It was a shame because I loved working there, but I moved on to something that paid better and had more perks.

  31. Amtelope*

    We had this person at my workplace. She bounced from department to department until she failed a PIP in our department too. Her work was both slow and careless, and she responded to all pressure to improve by working longer hours to produce the same late, poor-quality results. Finally our team lead insisted she be removed from our team. Her manager said “if we do that, we’ll have to let her go, because there aren’t any other departments that will have her.” Team lead said “I can live with that.” Some people got angry that we’d fired someone so “nice,” but they weren’t the people who actually had to work with her daily.

  32. Catabodua*

    Is there any opportunity to only give Bad Fit projects that directly impact the folks who won’t fire them? Make it something that they really care about that Bad Fit keeps screwing up, and keep giving it back to Bad Fit to fix vs having someone else fix it?

  33. Jenna Webster*

    I had a friend who had this same problem and he couldn’t figure out what was going on, until he had a sudden revelation. He told them that he would fire the person after they (the bosses) left for the weekend, and he got immediate approval to do so. Turned out that they just didn’t want to have to deal with the situation. Maybe a possibility?

  34. Catabodua*

    My only other idea. Ask the owners if you can give Bad Fit x amount of time to find another job on their own – something really generous like 6 months. Then have Bad Fit’s full time job be to find another job.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Then have Bad Fit’s full time job be to find another job.

      Offer BadFit an impressive reference.

        1. SpellingBee*

          Perfect! I love this. You can say it with a straight face and really mean it, just not in the way most people would interpret it.

  35. Not This Time*

    I’m currently cleaning up this type of situation. My staff member has been here for over ten years, and has been underperforming for most of those years. The original manager didn’t want to deal with it, and kept giving them decent reviews and not addressing the problems. When the manager finally started to have tough conversations, the good reviews were obviously something to overcome. Never succeeded, and the next manager left at least partially because of this situation. I’m being given free rein to fix this, but it’s massively frustrating to have the conversations that have already been documented, nearly word for word. Believe me, I’m determined to see this through. (Obviously, I would much rather that she step up and do the work. We will see.

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      Ugh… I just remembered I worked in a situation like this, but the underperformer had been there 18 years getting glowing reviews and big raises. A new, equally incompetent manager came in who wanted to put an end to it… and had no documentation.

      No one really asked Underperformer to be better–no PIP or anything. They just tried increasingly cruel tactics to get him to quit and finally fired him under less than honest pretenses. I’d documented my real problems with this person in hopes of getting a manager to manage. I feel *awful* for my unintended role in getting a longterm employee walked out with minimal severance, even though what I asked for was “get him to do better work faster.”

  36. Can't Fire*

    Letter writer here! Thank you very much to Alison and everyone for your input. 

    Many of you are correct in guessing this is a corporate environment that prides itself on being “nice” and giving people chances, so there is no way for me to win with reason. People have been fired before, but only when there were severe interpersonal problems/misconduct on top of performance issues, and I suspect the owners are extremely reluctant to let people go in general. I have no problem being the “bad guy” and handling firing and difficult conversations if it isn’t something they can personally stomach, but they both refuse to take responsibility AND won’t pass off that responsibility to someone else willing to do it.

    I think it’s a great idea to see if I can shift this new position to report directly to the owners and make it clear that I don’t have the time or resources to make this my problem anymore. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only situation I can see that might actually lead to BF being removed once the owners have to experience his serious performance problems every single day and find themselves losing their valuable time to him.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I said it elsewhere, but will repeat here: if you can’t shift BF, can you set it up so that all legitimate work related complaints about this person go directly to owners? That way they are still loosing time/energy to dealing with BF and the fallout left in their wake.

    2. Elle by the sea*

      Hi OP, I really wonder what the owners mean by “good fit for our company culture” and a “nice person”. Am I correct in assuming that BF is the kind of person who is busy social maneuvreing rather than doing actual work?

      1. Can't Fire*

        That is correct! BF is a super friendly, nice, outgoing guy who loves having a good chat with anyone and everyone. Which is totally fine, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t make him a good employee.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          So does this mean that his attitude issues that you mentioned only surface in response to negative feedback? Because that begins to shed a lot more light on how to move forward…

    3. Paris Geller*

      Well, I guess the silver lining is that you know you won’t get fired for trying to shift BF or sticking him in a corner or any of the other possibilities mentioned.

    4. Lizzo*

      Would it be worth pointing out that it’s not very “nice” or “kind” to your other hardworking, high-performing employees (including you!) to keep someone around who makes their professional lives more difficult? Also, that it’s not very “nice” or “kind” for Bad Fit to be trapped at this job, when they could be free to seek more fulfilling employment elsewhere?

      And yes, a shift of management of Bad Fit to the owners sounds like an excellent idea. Good luck!

    5. Polly Hedron*

      I agree that you cannot win with reason. I recommend that you stop trying to fire Bad Fit and go for a workaround.
      I got rid of my own Bad Fit by proposing an open-ended make-work project that required no supervision.
      I got my boss to transfer Bad Fit to that project, with Bad Fit reporting directly to him, by making that transfer the path of least resistance (my boss wouldn’t have to create or to supervise any of this work).
      I was very “nice”: I just wanted to “help” Bad Fit.
      Update please!

  37. Alex*

    We have our own Bad Fit in our department, and yeah, not only does it make the competent employees angry that they have to do all the hard work because they are able, while Bad Fit has lowered expectations with higher pay, but it makes our WHOLE DEPARTMENT look incompetent, because Bad Fit’s reputation rubs off on us, unfairly. It really sucks, and you should do everything you can to get Bad Fit out of the position–you’ll lose your good people, YOUR reputation will suffer, and it will drag down everyone.

  38. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    So the company culture is just…a wasteland of “nice” and no talent, got it boss.

    I’m sorry you’re in this situation. I had it before. It’s literally the second reason I left that hellpit. This won’t get better.

    Turns out when I left and therefore they had to babysit this person themselves, they fired them within a month’s time. Not kidding. Drop it like a hot rock and bounce as soon as you can find another position. Their business, their problem in the end.

  39. No name as required*

    Rumor around here has it that the co-irker who is barely able to do a simple job (which he was recently moved to when someone else left; previously he did close to nothing for several years) has some sort of blackmail on the boss/owner. Wouldn’t be surprised.

  40. irene adler*

    With our Bad Fit, we were resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going anywhere.
    One co-worker viewed it as a sign of job security. If Bad Fit can’t get fired for all the things he does (and doesn’t do), then for sure we can screw up really bad and not fear being canned.

    Sure, that doesn’t make up for all that Bad Fit embodies. But it is something.

  41. Funk*

    LW, would you be willing to walk over this? Consider 1) laying out that it’s either you or bad fit
    or 2) I guess they don’t fire people so perhaps maybe just tell the owners they can manage Bad Fit you’re going to carry on without them and not count them part of your team. And then refuse to manage bad fit any further.

  42. Sparkles McFadden*

    I have this theory: Every workplace has “valued” people and “useful” people.

    The valued people are valued for reasons we cannot see: They play golf with the boss, they make the boss feel smart, they spy on the other employees for the boss, some higher up likes the person for some unknown reason, someone feels “owed”, the person reminds the boss of her son…whatever.

    The useful people just do their jobs well. They show up every day, perform their duties well, contribute to the company in a positive way and so forth. Sadly, useful people often get saddled with the valued people because management needs someone to do all of the work. Useful people also get targeted sometimes because they make the valued employees “look bad.”

    But…the valued people get booted when the person who values them are gone. The useful people can probably stay forever, or as long as they want to. If the situation is too frustrating, a useful person can get another position. The valued person is totally dependent on someone wanting to champion them.

    Not so helpful in this case as the higher ups just don’t want to deal with “being mean” or some such nonsense. Hopefully, LW, can have Bad Fit report directly to management as suggested upthread so management gets to feel the pain caused by their inability to act.

    1. Artemesia*

      I absolutely saw this in the place I made my career. There were all sorts of terrible incompetents who were carried until something dramatic changed. Usually the person protecting them left or sometimes a new high status person came in and said ‘WTF. why are we paying her to sit at a desk all day when she can’t do X Y Z and we need someone who can get this done?’ And sometimes the person protecting them stops. I protected a guy on a 3 year revolving contract for years when others wanted to let him go because I felt on balance his contributions well outweighed how annoying he was — and then he crossed me one time too many and I just didn’t speak up the next time his contract was up and he was gone.

  43. Green great dragon*

    If the owners are just focused on being ‘nice people’ can you major on how unkind it is to other workers? ‘Everyone is really stressed and unhappy because they’re having to do Badfit’s work and he gets to do the easy things that used to give them a break. It’s not what we promised them when they joined’. It might be your best chance of getting a BadfitReplacement or permission to leave him without any work at all, even if he still doesn’t get fired.

  44. Richard Hershberger*

    I believe that back in the day, this sort of person was made Company Historian. Assign them the task of writing the definitive history, and then ignore them.

  45. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Owner doesn’t want to fire BadFit– but what about givinh the new job a new title that is clearly a demotion?

    1. library library*

      In corona times, perhaps Bad Fit could be given the job of sanitizing the office. Have them be the refrigerator clean out person. The recycling czar. The plant waterer.

      1. Lumio*

        In Corona times you should give that work to professionals, not someone who doesn’t have a clue and has no incentive to get a clue.

      2. Dancing Otter*

        Late to the topic, but I have to concur. Demote Bad Fit, and give them all the dumb tasks nobody wants to do.
        When someone makes the inevitable dig about “all they’re fit to do”, just say, “Don’t be unkind. Even simple chores are important.” Defending BF without contradicting the basic assertion.

  46. AKchic*

    What exactly *is* the company culture, and what does it say about the owners that they are not only willing, but actively demanding that a non-performing, failing employee stay in their position to continue to fail and not perform, when they acknowledge that anywhere else, the employee would have been let go, for cause? Are they hoping to karmically balance scales somehow? What is it about *this* employee that has them digging in their heels?

    Absolutely push to get the BadFit moved under their direct supervision if BadFit can’t be fired. Make it their problem and their problem alone. Note that there is a high likelihood that staff morale is already being affected, and you wouldn’t be surprised and you wouldn’t fault any of them for shopping around for other jobs. Right now, the company culture says “we don’t care about your hard work, we reward mediocrity if we like you. The rest of you can get bent”.

  47. Anonymouse*

    BadFit is promoted to PA, personal assistant, to the owners.
    BadFit will be exclusively in charge of the owners’ travel plans.
    BadFIT will exclusively be in charge of scheduling all of the owners’ outside business meetings.
    BadFit will be exclusively in charge of owners’ reimbursement of business expenses.
    BasFit will exclusively supply all necessary financial information to the owners’ personal tax accountants for filing their individual tax returns.
    BadFit will exclusively be in charge of any government officials and law enforcement officers who visit the office.
    And BadFit will be in charge of the coffee machine at the office.

  48. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    We have a Bad Fit at our company too. My current job title was one that she had and couldn’t handle. She was basically on a PIP the entire time before being passed to another team. There is a long and documented history of Bad Fit not being able to do her job,(mistakes, missed deadlines). Also Bad Fit likes to do other peoples jobs instead. So she had been repeatedly told she is not allowed to do this or that. Multiple times. When I was moved in to her old position she tried repeatedly to do tasks now assigned to me. I shut that shit down hard. My understanding that Work From Home has not improved Bad Fit and she’s actually gotten worse. Managers shudder and roll their eyes when her name is invoked.

  49. XF1013*

    Did anybody else see Brad Pitt every time they read Bad Fit? I amused myself with the vision of Brad Pitt in a cubicle, struggling with basic office tasks.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I pictured him as in Interview with a Vampire: only showing up because he had to and doing the bare minimum to get through it.

        (Brad hated making that film)

  50. Filosofickle*

    In interviews, I’ve been known to ask if the hiring manager has ever had to fire someone and how they approached that. It’s a dangerous question and I tread carefully, but it has been useful no matter what the response is. If I hear they’ve been a manager/owner for a decade or two and NEVER had to fire anyone…to me, that’s a little suspicious! Is this an excessively non-confrontational place? However, I’m interested in hearing their explanations about their successful hiring / coaching processes if they say it’s never been necessary. (And if they’re offended by the question, we’re probably not a good fit so that’s a helpful response, too.)

  51. justabot*

    Oh man, we had one of those and it was very similar! She was seriously a nice person, and sweet and funny and upbeat, but…. she was incompetent. At everything. Anything. We really did try to find her the easiest, most basic tasks – think, almost to the point of giving her a Fisher Price cash register and letting her believe she was operating a real one … it was bad. But she was friends of the owners and they were trying to keep her employed. The problem with employees like this is that there is only so much you can do to help them/guide them/train them/support them. We tried moving her around in so many ways to find something she could do. And she… was just clueless. And it did breed resentment with other employees, making the same rate, while tasked with real responsibilities and also having to undo her messes, plus babysit and giving her faux tasks to keep her from touching and messing up anything. Eventually Covid shut down our business for several weeks, some people were furloughed including her, and they were able to just gently not hire her back… while she continued to collect unemployment and PUA which was annoying that she was making more on that than most of the people who returned to work, but it let the owners feel like they were being generous to her that it was in her best interest to let her go…. when in reality, her managers were refusing to hire her back.

  52. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

    Be there, done that. Leave the company.

    I had a Terrible Employee (TE) whom I was not allowed to manage effectively, let alone fire. TE did not do their job. Not good or bad – TE was barely at the office. They had a job that implied BEING at the office at specific hours and could not in any way be done remotely. Out of an 8-hour shift, TE (when they came to work) was there barely for 5. TE lied several times and accused me of “making up” that they were leaving early/coming late until I pulled the security camera’s footage. TE would request crazy things because if not “it would not be possible to do the job” (think for example, requesting we hire a person with an MBA to open and scan the post, because it was “too difficult” – this was a small company).

    I was not allowed to put TE on a PiP – actually I was made to apologize to TE for being “too demanding” and hire an assistant to cover for their repeated absences (over 40 days in a year). Fast forward 1 year and TE’s performance was non-existent, 2 employees were covering for them almost full-time and the absences had sky-rocketed to 70 days/year. Then was TE put on a PiP.

    Now, with hinsight, I should have given TE away for somebody else to manage. I was put in a lose-lose situation, with an employee that does not only have no interest in doing their job, but also knew I have no way to hold them accountable. The biggest lesson from it is: if you don’t have the authority, this is not your war. Bad Fit is whoever is in charge’s problem, not yours.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Ugh we had one of these too! He had a coverage based job. He was seriously late or no-showed about 50% of the time. So we’d have people scrambling to cover for him at the last minute, not knowing if he’d show up eventually or not at all and they’d be stuck covering both their responsibilities and his for the next five hours.

      It was a nightmare.

      He finally ended up throwing a violent temper tantrum at work that required he be fired. But it was probably six months of hell before that.

    2. Manana*

      I was in a similar situation- Terrible Employee who called out literally every single Monday for a year on top of multiple other absences (I was her manager a little over a year and she was absent over 100 days during that time). She stole from other employees, doctors, from the company itself, and from patients (she worked with CANCER PATIENTS!) Once when she stole money from the cash drawer, I was made to apologize to her and was blamed for not locking the cash drawer when I had her work the area despite the fact that her role was to collect money and therefore could not do her job if the cash drawer was locked. It got to the point that I would have to work every area of the office myself if she was there because I could not trust her to be alone in any place where there were staff or patient belongings or cash. Never allowed to write her up, never allowed to put her on a PIP, never allowed to have a “strong talk” with her. I was supposed to make her into a good employee through wishes and prayer I guess. FINALLY she met some dude in another city and wanted to move there and asked for a reference. I have never lied so much in my life as when those employers called. I didn’t care, I needed her out! She got the job, put in her 2 weeks notice of which she worked 3 days and stopped showing up, and that was that. She was only one of many TEs on staff that never faced any accountability and were bizarrely defended by the practice’s Executive Director. I left about a year later. 6 months after I left the whole medical practice went bankrupt and everyone lost their jobs, due in major part to the incompetence of the executive director who refused to manage people.

  53. employment lawyah*

    Well, most obviously: Document, document, document. If you get a new boss or anything happens, you need to make tit clear that the problem is you, not them.

    Next, be very sure you are clear. I’m not sure you are!

    It’s true you say “I thoroughly documented the repeated problems, their inability to do just about anything right, and a complete lack of progress on any of the PIP goals despite huge amounts of time and effort sunk into trying to support them.”

    But you also say “I hoped they understood.” So maybe you were not as clear as you thought.

    1. Can't Fire*

      I was extremely clear. I say “I hoped they understood” because they outright stated this employee would’ve been fired months ago anywhere else, which would imply that they realize how bad the employee is.

      1. employment lawyah*

        Hmm. Was worth a shot.

        Well, it sounds like you may be SOL. In additional to AAM’s good advice, you can always take a stab at the “general buy-in approach.” Which is to say that you can try to get BigBoss to buy into your power *without* the context of what you would do with it.

        So for example, instead of “I want to fire G” it’s more like trying to get BigBoss to generally agree that you have “authority to do ____,” where ____ includes but is not limited to “firing G.” For example, do you have the authority to make “staffing decisions” on your own? To “make hiring / firing decisions” so long as you stay within budget?

        If not, would they give you that generic power in the non-G-specific context, whether it’s an annual review or the context of a generic employee?

        This works because of what we call “pre-commitment.” Once you have agreed to a general rule you’re more likely to agree to an application of that same rule. It’s probably too late once they have already said no, but you can always try.

  54. Just Another Zebra*

    Try writing out the new responsibilities of each of your team members, highlighting what they’ve “adopted” from Bad Fit. Do the same as what Bad Fit is doing. Maybe the owners will respond better to a visual “look how unequitable this is”.

    Also, if there are any buzzwords in your company culture that can be turned around to demonstrate what a poor fit Bad Fit actually is (go-getter, hard working, team player, etc), that may also bring the owners around to firing Bad Fit.

    Good luck!

  55. Tabby Baltimore*

    What stood out to me was the owners’ need to prioritize their feelings as the yardstick by which to measure handling Bad Fit “successfully.” Which is obviously the wrong metric, as you already know. Thinking back to the comments made about an earlier AAM post on how to manage a micromanager, it might be worth considering to approach the owners with this: by not making the effort to fire Bad Fit, the owners are, in effect, guaranteeing that their current employees *will* change their jobs (and some may already be looking!). And so the owners should stop measuring success by how good they feel, and instead measure it by the increased productivity the business is likely to accrue by limiting or stopping the damaging effects of Bad Fit’s continued employment. I hope you’ll come back on one of the Friday open threads and let us know what you decided to do, and how it turned out. Best of luck.

  56. Ageeknamedbob*

    I’ve had the similiar situation as a manager at TeaPot Cinemas. Our policy was we can only let people go after the 90 day training period (where can cut for whatever, most stick around as the problem employees usually make themselves known almost immediately) if they have a level 4 write up. Unless they do something really egregious, that means a lot of time and a whole bunch of write-ups. Thus, if they are a bad employee, but not technically breaking any rules, they stick around.
    We used to talk about how to remove the bad ones, give them tasks they can’t do well and write them up for it? Nah, that opens issues of why not others? Often they’d be put in a “do nothing” position (door stand ripping tickets, boring as all hell), and hours cut to miminum to hope they get the idea and leave. Didn’t always work though, many of the bad employees wanted to work as little as possible as they were high-school/college kids with good financial backing so it didn’t really matter to them.

    Despite this frustration, I’m overall glad for the policy as it cuts down on managers firing someone for a personal slight or just about anything but it can be frustrating.

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      I worked at a place like that. All the competent employees hated it, because it just meant picking up the slack from lazy employees. And of course, those bad employees who did want hours managed to trade for them, taking hours from soft-hearted workers who let the bad ones walk all over them.
      I stuck around for a year because I enjoyed the job itself, and had some friends there. But after a while, I just couldn’t take the complete lack of competent management.

  57. TiredMama*

    Oh my God, I want to have that level of confidence in myself that even in the face of evidence that I have failed, I ask for a raise just because of my presence. Amazing self-confidence.

    1. KnittyKnerd*

      My coworker literally just pulled the same crap and tried to guilt HR about it because she’s going through a divorce so money is getting tight.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Legendary incident at one firm one who outright physically attacked another member of staff, then 2 days later demanded a raise because his wife had had another child, he was stressed about it, and anyway him being suspended without pay was ‘obviously discriminatory to parents’. He swore up and down on Facebook, threatening lawyers, demanding the firm promote him AND fire the person he attacked ‘for not respecting me’.

        I was in IT at the time, trying to moderate the company forums. 99% of responses were ‘what on earth is going on in that guy’s head?!’.

        (Company had over 35000 employees so in hindsight we should have expected at least one totally bizarre story per year)

  58. KnittyKnerd*

    As someone who works with a Bad Fit, she’s seriously even pulled similar crap with the raise expectations and has been bounced around to 3 different departments due to not being able to do the basic functions (as a department we’ve also rearranged our daily work assignments twice in the 2 years I’ve been here for the same reason), I can almost guarantee that your good employees are actively looking for other work. My bigger bosses just don’t like confrontation and she’s never been put on a PIP. Several of us held on out of loyalty to our supervisor (like you she’s sees the issues but has zero support from above and zero training in people management), but we’re now just waiting for the right opportunity to jump ship.

  59. Garlic Knot*

    My team has the exact situation as described in the second-to-last paragraph. It’s been tears, it pisses everyone off, and none of us have any respect left for our boss.

  60. Dennis Feinstein*

    “Bad Fit, you’ve failed your PIP.”
    “OK then. Money please!”
    Bad Fit 100% has compromising pictures of the bosses.

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