Ask Shawn: I can't fire my problem employee


Shawn McVey counsels a veterinary manager who's constantly second-guessed by her boss.

Q: I'm having difficulty owning my title as office manager. The owner says that I have the ability to do what's needed, but after I have said, recommended or done something he always second guesses me. For example, I have a problem employee who has worked for us for 11-plus years. Many team members have said that she is a work sociopath. She only wants to do what benefits her, she's manipulative and she's a complainer. I have more than enough evidence that she is no good. But the owner says when it comes to reprimanding her, he will do it. Then what am I here for? Then he doesn't deal with it. He just tells her to watch herself. I'm not sure how to handle this when I'm being told to not get involved but my team is still having issues. I've even suggested we dock her pay by $1 an hour, and still the owner has done nothing.

-Manager in name only

Dear Manager, 

Oh my. You are in a tough-but all too typical-situation. It's unfortunate and frustrating and you're probably not going to like my answer, but here it goes. I always tell my employees I can protect them from everyone but the owner. If the owner won't change or is stuck on a certain way of doing things, he or she isn't going to change. And you should leave if the owner isn't open to your feedback. 

Have you told the owner how frustrating this is for you and how it's affecting you and the practice? Try to give him data about how this mixed message is making work-and your job-difficult. If your practice has core values, I encourage you to talk about the problem employee in terms of her adherence to your values. Most important, don't waste your time in a practice that wont walk the talk.-Shawn

Got a question? Ask Shawn. 

Maybe you're tired of babysitting your team members. Perhaps you're looking for strategies to beat a bully. Or maybe your manager is driving you right up to the edge. Shawn can help. Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, is a member of the Firstline and Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory boards and CEO of McVey Management Solutions in Austin, Texas. Email your questions for him to, then visit to read McVey's advice on other hot topics.

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