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Can you fire someone for being rude to customers?

Can you fire someone for being rude to customers?

Running a small business demands high quality customer service or a positive experience. It can ensure return business, positive online reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations in your customer’s personal network. So, what do you do when an employee demonstrates poor, or in some instances, totally unacceptable customer service?


Terminating employees requires a well-structured, thought out plan. Things to consider include are:

  • how severe is the “rudeness”?
  • is it brand damaging?
  • is it going to impact your business long-term?
  • is this a one-off or a regular or repeated behaviour?
  • what is the context surrounding the employee’s behaviour?
  • can if be considered serious misconduct?

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, serious misconduct can include:

  • theft
  • assault
  • being drunk at work
  • safety violations (to customers or co-workers)
  • harassment
  • the employee refusing to carry out lawful and reasonable instructions that are consistent with the employee’s contract of employment

Depending upon the severity of the rudeness, you may need to terminate the employee. Remember though, when terminating an employee for serious misconduct, there are procedural steps that must be followed. If any one of these incidents have occurred and you’re not sure what the next step should be, make sure you contact Employsure before speaking with the employee to avoid a costly unfair dismissal claim.

If the rude behaviour is not severe enough to warrant serious misconduct, you might consider giving the employee a warning, or even a final warning, to avoid the behaviour recurring These warnings pave the way for a future termination if the behaviour continues and you do choose to terminate the employee.

Ongoing management of the employee

Sometimes, rude behaviour by staff, can be the symptoms of serious underlying problems that may exist in your business. If you suspect this to be the case, it may be useful to consider:

Lack of training.

How to manage this:

  • implement a consistent and on-going customer service training
  • set clear expectations in Performance Management plans and workplace policies

Low staff morale.

How to manage this:

  • reassure and encourage staff to voice their concerns with their manager before things escalate
  • encourage open communication within the team and make sure there are opportunities to foster constructive feedback
  • ensure your managers are approachable

Inconsistent / unclear expectations.

How to manage this:

  • performance management plans are a fantastic way to track, measure and document employee performance and behaviour
  • set clear expectations, goals and identify gaps in the employee’s skills / knowledge or training to avoid frustration or confusion


How to manage this:

  • recognise and try to be aware of stressful situations employees may be experiencing outside of the workplace that could be impacting their performance of mental health during work hours
  • offer open conversations with your employees to help support performance management.
  • check in with your staff outside of management meetings – ask if they are okay or if there is something you can do to help improve their ability to work.

These strategies are a fantastic way of managing “rude” employees, however, a proactive approach is always best.

If an employee’s rudeness is severe enough, or can be considered serious misconduct, make sure you speak with an Employsure Adviser on 1300 651 415 about employee performance management, how to avoid an unfair dismissal claim and implementing policies for future employees to follow.

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