OK. How to deal with toxic employees has been covered in other answers - but I suspect you may have a different issue on your hands.
A few points:
- You may want to consider the possibility that the other employees are trying to get the receptionist fired. I don't know the social atmosphere in your workplace, but in many cases, management / ownership are kept out of the loop when it comes to personal drama between employees that has leaked onto the job. In addition, employees (as both individuals and groups) can have their own agendas, which you certainly won't be hearing about.
- Workplace Mobbing is real. I've been a witness to it. I've been a victim of it. It happens in a number of circumstances, the least of which could be relationship / sex drama or simple personality conflicts.
- As a general rule, employees are well aware that they can take advantage of disciplinary procedure and chain of command to jeopardize an 'undesirable' or strategically inconvenient co-worker's position.
- In some situations, this is done as part of a 'Neighborhood Watch'
or 'Community Policing' program if an individual is acting in a way
that members of the group deem to be strange, or is clearly engaged in illegal activities for which no legal warrant can be obtained for a legitimate
investigation. The primary objective in these cases is to drive them out of their jobs and out of their homes if possible. A secondary objective may be to provoke them to do something that lands them in jail for at least an equal amount of time as the crimes they are suspected of committing.
- If this is a case of mobbing (no matter the reason), being out of the loop should put the fear of God in you - even as a manager. Once the perpetrators successfully get rid of the receptionist, there is a possibility that they could target you at some point in the future. Or even next. Management is not invincible. I have seen this happen.
If you simply terminate the receptionist without analyzing the situation, you may be helping to propagate a serious form of abuse. This isn't a group of school children taking each others' toys and calling names.
Lives have been lost on numerous occasions due to this type of harassment.
Note this well.
But for what it's worth, using only the information you provided, my analysis of the situation would indicate that something fishy may indeed be going on behind the scenes.
- Both the IT person and the other employee immediately ran to you over a problem that could have been handled by any reasonably mature adult employee without the need for managerial intervention. While it is true that reprimands and orders can only be given by management, this particular problem could have been solved without the need for either.
- A simple non-confrontational conversation between the IT person and the receptionist could have eliminated the issue altogether. Someone should have been able to kindly explain to the receptionist that she can't leave the printer in direct sunlight, or she will soon no longer have a printer. If she had become confrontational at that point, only then would it have been appropriate to bring it to you.
- The other employee should have kept his mouth shut. This was an issue between the receptionist, the IT person, and you. No matter what the receptionist verbalized, it was NOT the other employee's place to become involved. It seems rather odd that he chose to do so.
- As a matter of fact, it is likely that this was part of a 'friendly'
conversation, after which he saw an opportunity to stab the receptionist in the back. This is unacceptable. True professionals and respectable individuals always keep their noses out of issues that do not personally involve them.
These are just some things to think about. I'd love to tell you the surefire solution, but there probably isn't one. These issues are always multi-faceted, and never as clear-cut as they seem to be on the surface.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. But just keep in mind that a wise leader never immediately assumes hearsay or complaints to be true, and good management always investigates thoroughly when any complaint or request for intervention is made.
A solid next step would be to sit them all (three) down individually, then address them in a group meeting to see if anyone's stories or attitudes change. Make note of these changes. If you've been dealing with people for any significant amount of time, it will become quickly apparent who is lying, who is telling the truth, and who you should even be having a conversation with in the first place.
Hope this helps!