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17 Horrible and (Hopefully) Fictional Employees

Do you recognize any of these bad-employee archetypes among your staff?

If you’ve done a good job hiring, chances are most are your employees are honest and industrious.

But what happens if you get stuck with a truly bad egg? Best case scenario: you learn a few lessons and show them the door. Worst case: they do some serious damage to your business and slap you with a wrongful termination suit on their way out. With that in mind, we combed pop culture’s HR files to find the worst of the worst. Here’s hoping you never meet any of them!

1. The Self-Serving Innovator

Seinfeld’s George Costanza is tireless in his pursuit of novel ways to avoid working. He shows his brand of ingenuity when he figures out how to sleep on the job without being spotted.

2. The Uncooperative Seat-Warmer

Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener is the ultimate do-nothing. Soon after he’s hired by a successful Wall Street lawyer to copy and proofread documents, he starts answering every request with his iconic line: “I would prefer not to.” (It turns out, though, that Bartelby is not just a contrarian—he’s terminally depressed, and the story ends tragically, when he is thrown in jail and dies of starvation because he “prefers not to eat.”)

3. The Incompetent Sadsack

Slightly less depressing than Bartelby is the down-and-out Al Bundy. He can never get a break, let alone sell a pair of shoes.

4. The Slacker/Stoner

As far as Simpson’s characters go, Otto’s a pretty good dude…but should he be driving a bus full of kids? “Dazed and Confused” pretty much covers it.

5. The Nervous Nelly

Trust. Professionalism. Competence. All words you can easily assign to the Next Generation crew of the Star Trek Enterprise. That is, with one notable exception: Lieutenant Reginald Barklay. The bumbling, insecure, and nervous crew member can’t seem to do anything right.

6. The Jaded Know-it-All

In The Devil Wears Prada, long time editorial assistant Emily Charlton has to train the cluelessly mousy Andrea Sachs on how to survive at a high fashion magazine. Insert eye-roll here.

7. The Disdainful Heckler

This type is a variation on the Know-it-All. Randal Graves from Clerks, the 1994 film by Kevin Smith,  represents the legions of hourly workers, unhappy or bored, who take out their frustration on customers. This is the type of employee who drives people away from your business.

8. The Braggart

With a signature line like, “I’ve made a huge mistake,” you know you’ve got a real winner. Gob from Arrested Development (pronounced like the biblical Job) is 100% showman. But then again, he isn’t even good at being a magician. But who cares? There’s always a forget-me-not.

9. The Literal Thinker

Housemaid Amelia Bedelia just can’t get the hang of vernacular language—and ends up making more messes than she cleans up. Dust the house? Draw the drapes? Dress the chicken? No problem!

10. The Rogue

The Shield’s Vic Mackey makes up his own rules as he leads his corrupt Strike Team on increasingly questionable operations. Employee handbook? Who are you kidding?

11. The Cheerfully Clueless

Jennifer Anniston is sure adorable, but you wouldn’t want her as your waitress.

12. The Backstabber

Downton Abbey’s manipulative allies Thomas and O’Brien will stop at nothing to get ahead. But ultimately, no one is safe from a backstabber, especially one as ruthless as O’Brien.

13. The Power-Tripping Blowhard

Maybe Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show isn’t a bad employee, per se, but he definitely takes his job a little too seriously. Just don’t cross him and there won’t be any trouble.

14. The Wandering Eye

“Accident insurance?”

“Sure, Mrs. Dietrichson.”

A seemingly-innocent flirtation leads insurance agent Walter Neff deep into a murder plot in Double Indemnity.

15. The Usurper

Once Breaking Bad’s Walter White has transformed from nerdy science teacher to the top chef of meth, the power goes straight to his head and he’s no longer content with working for someone else. And a guy who’s morally bankrupt and thinks he’s smarter than everyone else is willing to climb over dead bodies to get to the top.

16. The Maniacal Obsessive-Compulsive

He’s highly motivated, laser-focused, and works long hours, but Caddy Shack groundskeeper Carl Spackler’s “dedication” probably won’t earn him Employee of the Month.

17. The Seemingly Benign Psychopath

Mumbling, squirrely Office Space anti-hero Milton Waddams, with his unhealthy attachment to his Swingline stapler, seems like a harmless wimp. That is, until he (allegedly) burns down the building. But as long as we’re knocking Milton, it’s only fair to mention the film’s other  saboteurs: Protagonist Peter Gibbons and friends, who resort to outright thievery—and get away with it.

To protect your business from getting stuck with these morale-killing and profit-draining employee types, it’s important to understand the legal basics of being a boss. You might want to familiarize yourself with these common documents:

If you’re ever unsure how to handle a difficult personnel issue, it’s a good idea to consult with an employment attorney.


  1. Paul Lee says:

    I think it is safe to say that all of us exhibit one or more of these traits and, left alone, they can reveal themselves and really stifle a successful working environment. I think this is where good management and leadership comes into play. If you can foster a positive working environment and develop a real connection with employees, you can bring positive characteristics that silence these negative ones. A motivated employee that feels a part of the process and the success of the firm will put more of their positive traits into their work, not letting a lot of these progress-killing characters take hold of them.

  2. Laura Counts says:

    Thanks for your insights, Paul.