Dealing with Problem Employees – A Two Part Series

As managers and supervisors, one of the most disagreeable and difficult tasks we face is that of disciplining employees for performance issues.  In today’s work environment, we are bound by rules and regulations which demand that disciplinary actions be carried out in a manner that is not arbitrary, unfair or perceived to be discriminatory.  In this two-part series, we will examine important aspects of the employee disciplinary process to help you effect the change your organization needs in a way that minimizes your legal risks.

Part 1 – The Four Steps of Corrective Action

In this first part of this two-part series, we will review the major steps to follow when disciplining an employee.

Of course, the first course of action should always be to motivate and encourage your employees to perform at standards that are acceptable. However, we will inevitably be faced with “problem employees” or employees who, for whatever reason, just cannot perform the necessary duties of the job. In this scenario we are forced to take progressive disciplinary action; here are human resource standards that will help you avoid any legal pitfalls.

  1. Make sure that your company has clearly written policies that cover areas of performance standards and disciplinary steps, and that the policies have been communicated to employees and consistently enforced.
  2. Meet with the employee, and discuss the issue while allowing for discussion on how to correct the problem.  Try to come up with a mutual plan of action to be followed and give the employee an opportunity and some time to improve. (This does not apply to violations of gross misconduct that clearly dictate termination.)
  3. Document, Document, Document! Every discussion with an employee related to corrective action should be documented. Even if you think the meeting went well, be consistent in making a complete and detailed account of the conversation. If it is a step in the formal disciplinary corrective action process, a copy of all documentation should be kept in the department’s employee file and a copy should be given to the employee. Part two of this series will focus on the various types of documentation and how they should be stored.
  4. Follow the basic four-step human resource standard for corrective action:
  • Oral Warning – Issue a verbal warning and a request for improvement. Be specific about the deficiencies and the expected improvements.
  • Written Warning – Document how performance falls short and again, be specific about the deficient actions and communicate your expectations.  It’s a good idea to inquire if the employee understands the expectations for the job, and if he or she requires any additional training in order to improve.
  • Final Written Warning – Consult with your Human Resources professional and issue a written warning specifying the final deadline for meeting the standards of the performance issue.  It’s a good time to review your prior conversations with the employee and repeat back to him the commitments made to improve.  We always suggest you confirm there is nothing you need to provide to the employee, such as training, to bring about improvement.
  • Termination – When the deadline for improvement arrives, and the employee’s performance continues below expectations,  the supervisor or manager and the Human Resources professional should meet with the employee. Provide written notification of the termination action being taken including the specific reasons.

As a manager or supervisor, this task is not pleasant but it is sometimes inevitable. If faced with these types of situations, the key is to recognize the problem, try to help the employee to improve his performance, to consistently enforce your organization’s human resources policies, to faithfully follow your corrective action steps and always DOCUMENT!

Join us next time for the second half of this series: the Elements of Good Documentation.  It’s not as difficult to accomplish as you might think.

Stay tuned for Part 2- The Elements of Good Documentation.

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