As an entrepreneur, you'd do anything for your company. You put in countless hours to build the business, and you're relentlessly committed to your mission.

Unfortunately, not all of your employees are going to feel the same way. It's inevitable that once you really start to grow, you may inadvertently invite a toxic employee into your midst.

Left unchecked, a toxic employee's bad attitude will fester and spread to other parts of your company. I learned this lesson early in my entrepreneurial career. Shortly after I started Gravity, one of our top-performing employees began playing political games and forming alliances within the company.

Although he was a key player in my company's growth, I had to let him go. Company politics didn't fit our values, and the long-term benefit of a thriving team whose members trust one another far outweighed the short-term drawback of losing that employee's expertise and book of business.

Your bottom line might feel the sting of losing a top employee initially, but by ridding your company of harmful individuals, your team will become stronger than ever.

3 ways to spot toxic employees

Detecting unhealthy employee behaviors is the first step in healing your organization. Here are three signs that a toxic employee is poisoning your team:

  1. He constantly complains. Everybody has bad days, but consistent grousing fuels a negative atmosphere, which kills productivity and employees' willingness to work together toward a common goal.
  1. He's the source of company politics. Employees who attempt to divide your team will be detrimental to your company in the long run. This attitude can quickly spread and pit team members against one another, ultimately hurting team morale and output.
  1. He creates hierarchies that isolate new team members. People who constantly have something negative to say about others are not the people you want around when onboarding new team members. These are the people who don't make any effort to welcome new employees. Or they spout negative comments about their co-workers.

Give your company a healing cleanse 

Identifying toxic employees and making the decision to fire them is never a comfortable or easy process. But there are steps you can take to minimize risk and make the transition as smooth as possible.

  1. Screen your employees. Use SurveyMonkey or other free online survey tools to conduct anonymous studies that expose team members' attitudes toward management and morale. If you find that negativity or low morale is an issue, you can work to fix the problem before disaster strikes.
  2. Isolate the negative employee from key decisions and clients. This is essential for minimizing collateral damage the person could cause during the termination process.
  3. Create a thorough contingency plan. Make sure you prepare for a case in which the employee leaves before you're ready--so his absence won't disrupt the flow of business.
  4. Consult your labor attorney. It's always wise to navigate the legalities behind terminating an employee.
  5. Cover your bases. If you decide to let an employee go, make sure to hire a replacement or shift existing resources to areas he was involved in so important tasks don't fall through the cracks.

You should never brush off bad employee behavior that threatens team morale--that negativity can spread through your organization like poison. Although letting a key employee go might seem like a disaster in the making, the hit your company will take now is only a fraction of the damage that this employee could inflict in the long run.

Once the initial pain passes, your company will be healthier and in a better position to move forward. Plus, taking a proactive stance to preserve your team will show employees that you have the company's long-term success in mind and that you value team players above all else.

Published on: Oct 20, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.