Employers: Handle Problematic Employees with Care cover

Employers: Handle Problematic Employees with Care

  • Learn three options to handle employees who are not working out.
  • Find tips for investigating the problem.
  • Get advice for dealing with particularly contentious situations.
  • Find out why you should not let bad behavior slide.
  • When to establish an employee code of conduct in your office.

When your organization hires someone, it’s important to ensure that the individual is both qualified for the position and a good fit for your mission and culture. But no matter how hard you try, you could still end up with problematic employees.

The question then becomes: How should you handle the situation? The simple answer is: With great care because the stakes are high both financially and for your employer brand.

Handle problematic employees with care.

Retrain or Replace Problematic Employees

If a staff member isn’t working out, you have three basic options:

  1. Retrain the person, perhaps under a formal performance improvement plan,
  2. Transfer the individual to a different, more suitable job, or
  3. Terminate the employee and find a replacement.

None of these options are easy, but the last one likely presents the greatest immediate risk. Taking an adverse employment action, such as firing, could lead to a costly lawsuit. And finding a replacement will consume time, money, and resources.

Then again, confronting employees about problematic performance or behavior can be awkward and contentious. What’s more, getting problematic employees to change for the better — whether in the current position or a new one — can take a long time.

Investigate the Matter

Before doing anything, investigate precisely what’s going on. Did the person materially misrepresent skills or experience during the hiring process? Have the employee’s actions clearly been unprofessional, unethical, or even potentially dangerous? If so, there may be defensible grounds for termination.

However — and this is the tough part — also determine whether your organization bears some responsibility for the situation. Many employers have room for improvement when it comes to onboarding and training.

Did your HR staff, and everyone who participated in interviews, clearly communicate the job duties and performance expectations for the position? Was the employee warmly welcomed, thoroughly trained, and provided the tools (such as proper workspace and equipment) to perform well?

Ultimately, you want to identify the source of the problematic behavior or attitude. Often, the straightest path to resolution is to simply ask. Engage in an open, good-faith dialogue with any problematic employees in which you state your concerns and openly listen to the staff member’s point of view.

Build a Case

Not all foibles can be fixed, however, nor every problem employee can be saved. Here are a few tips for dealing with particularly contentious situations:

  • Don’t let bad behavior or poor work slide because it sends the wrong message to everyone,
  • Give a verbal warning in private,
  • Be specific in describing the problems and expected improvements,
  • Document the employee’s mistakes or wrongdoings, conflicts, and interactions with supervisory staff thoroughly and over a long period,
  • Train supervisors to avoid anger, even if the employee responds emotionally, and
  • Ensure the employee understands what changes need to occur.

Generally, employers can establish better legal footing for termination if a measured, documented, step-by-step approach to performance improvement is undertaken rather than a sudden firing. Contact your attorney for further details and help with a specific matter.

Don’t Put Up with Problematic Employees

Some organizations tolerate problematic employees for years, often because they have hard-to-replace skills or close relationships with key customers. However, over time, these individuals will likely impair an employer’s financial results and ability to hire or retain good workers. That’s why it’s usually best to address the matter right away.

Establishing an Employee Code of Conduct

Establishing an employee code of conduct in an employee handbook can help to deter problematic behavior in the office. We are here to help if you are in need of assistance creating and distributing an employee handbook. Call Fiducial at 1-866-FIDUCIAL or make an appointment at one of our office locations to discuss your situation.

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