DEALING WITH THE WORKPLACE “DEBBIE DOWNER” « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Properly Confronting the Chronically Negative Employee

According to, a “Debbie Downer” is a “naysayer; one whose negative remarks depress or dissuade others.”  Most seasoned managers will be all too familiar with how one negative individual can bring down the entire workforce’s morale.

Employers are often reluctant to terminate someone just for a negative attitude, particularly if the worker otherwise appears to be doing a good job, shows up on time and is not overtly flouting workplace policies or rules.

Disciplining someone for having a “bad attitude” may also run afoul of legitimate employee protections. For example, employers must not violate the National Labor Relations Act, which shields certain activities including criticisms over working conditions. Employees also have rights prohibiting wrongful termination or discrimination based on his/her protected class, such as gender, age, race, religion, and physical or mental disability.

Yet continuing to employ a “Debbie Downer” or, say, a “Bob Bummer” can create a toxic environment in which other valuable employees may choose to leave. If to resolve legitimate workplace concerns, an employer is determined to part ways with Ms. Downer or Mr. Bummer, it should consider consulting with knowledgeable employment counsel to minimize the prospects of legal repercussions, including:

  • Treating all employees fairly, consistently and appropriately in accordance with company policy.
  • Documenting specific behavior that negatively impacts others, impedes productivity, etc.
  • Verbal counseling and a written performance improvement plan in an attempt to correct the behavior.
  • Placing the employee on probation or suspension, especially if the negative behavior violates company policy, such as insubordination.
  • Offering additional severance pay upon termination in exchange for a signed release and waiver of all claims, real or imagined, known or unknown.

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For further assistance, please contact one of our attorneys Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Cindy Bamforth

June 14, 2019