Term Paper: Disciplinary Methods and Approaches to Dealing With Problem Employees

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Disciplining Problem Employees

It is often said that the human aspect of any business is its single greatest resource and its single greatest liability as without the employees no deliverables would reach the customer and no ideas would ever be generated or come to fruition. Yet conversely in any business, where others are employed, the potential exists for individuals who are employed to act in ways that are disruptive and contrary to a smooth running business and ideal productivity. Employers and managers often face this as a one of their greatest problems in the workplace. Problems arising from employee actions can be anything that is disruptive in the workplace for example; excessive and repetitive tardiness, frequent absenteeism without good cause, inappropriate language and behavior in the workplace, inability to get along with other employees or management (Kushnir, 2008), poor work habits, poor hygiene or dress (Gudgin, 2010), collusion with other employees to insight turmoil or elicit unwarranted changes or bad behavior by others or even something as extreme as fraud or theft, or workplace violence (DelPo & Guerin 2010, p. 25). The problem lies in the fact that these employees often engender concern from other employees, and customers, reduce productivity, represent the professionalism of the company poorly with customers (Gudgin, 2010) and overall create a poor working environment for all. This work will discuss disciplining problem employees, fairly and legally to help them become better employees in the future or terminate their employment when it is warranted.

Termination is Rarely the Goal

There is recourse for employers, with regard to terminating an employee, if there is legal cause to do so, but they often feel trapped by wrongful termination laws and fear of reprisal. For managers and owners fear of wrongful termination suits is high on the list of reasons why he or she may not wish to terminate employment of the individual yet, there are several scenarios that will support the employer in any lawsuit if he or she does not violate any employment laws either during the employees' tenure or upon termination. Yet, employers and managers likely feel even more trapped if termination of employment is not desired, say if the employee is a really good worker but can't get along with others (Kushnir, 2008), if the employee has a history of being an effective and positive member of the company and/or if the employee is known to be having problems or stresses inside or outside the work environment that may be influencing his or her negative behaviors. There are of course many other scenarios where firing the employee is simply a last resort either because they are valuable or because they have been in the past and you hope they will be again, but one of the most important business reasons for not firing an employee is because as an employer you have usually made a considerable investment in that employee. You went through the recruitment process, an arduous task. You chose this employee over all other applicants because he or she seemed like the right person for the job, an extremely difficult decision in many cases. You have invested time, money and energy in training the employee to do the job that he or she does and it will take precious time and more resources to repeat all these actions to replace the individual, assuming that his or her job will exist in the future. Therefore, the question here, and likely in many real life scenarios, is not how to fairly terminate an employee but how to use appropriate and fair discipline to bring the employee back in line and allow the employee to again become a positive and productive employee.

The most important thing according to many experts is to stop the bad behaviors before they become any worse or poison the work environment. So then how does one do that? Most of all, action must be taken. The consequences not acting can be foundational to the business and they will not likely go away on their own (Whipple, 2010). "Unless you intervene, the employee may not know that his or her behavior or actions are unacceptable. Your company will suffer the direct consequences of the employee's actions reduced productivity, quality control problems; dollars, opportunities, or customers lost; or worse" (DelPo and Guerin, 2010, p. 106).

So, even if a manager or employer believes that not responding is the best answer because problems tend to work themselves out, this is rarely the case and even if the problem is so minor that no action needs to be take to alert the employee of his or her suspected or real misconduct the manager still must look into the problem and come up with a response. In other words no problem is so small that it does not need to be looked at, and when it is warranted inaction is not "NO" action, as there clearly are cases where action on the part of the employer will legitimately make the problem worse. One example might be minor non-work related communication or personal problems between employees, which often do work themselves out with time, emotional intelligence and further communication. While on the other hand this does not mean that the employer should not be aware that it is happening, in the event that the problem escalates or repeats between one member of the primary dispute and other employees (DelPo & Guerin, 2010, p. 11). Figuring out when and how to react is an essential issue of management, as is managing and dealing with conflict. "Managing these dilemmas requires knowing the exact moment to intervene and doing so in a way that preserves trust with the individual and the group. Once you let an employee get away with bad behavior, it becomes harder to address the next time, and so on" (Whipple, p. 114).

Initially as Ingham makes clear in a short article on employee misconduct the most important hurdle to overcome is a thorough and well documented investigation. Without a manager or business owner being fully informed regarding the nature of misconduct by an employee or employees he or she has little grounds for taking action. First the employer must conduct a fact-finding exercise, preferably by a party who is not ultimately responsible for disciplinary action (if the number of employees in the business allows this). The employer must determine if any rule or even laws have been broken by the employee and if there is proof of that, but in general he or she must determine if the reported even occurred, when it occurred, who was involved and what steps to take next. Second the employer must look at the information and determine a further course of action that is warranted by the seriousness of the misconduct.

Disciplinary actions can be anything from an informal meeting or coaching session, a warning letter to the employee, a change in some policy documented and distributed to all employees, a formal disciplinary hearing, or even a legal investigation and termination can be the result as long as it is commiserate with the offence(s). These ideas are also supported by DelPo, & Guerin in the book, Dealing With Problem Employees: A Legal Guide, where they state that; "managers deal with first-time problems by administering a verbal coaching or warning, then escalate to more serious measures if the problem continues or the employee develops other problems" (2010, p. 106). Most of all Ingham and DelPo & Guerin stress that disciplinary actions should not be undertaken without stakeholders reviewing the appropriate laws and regulations associated with such actions and without reviewing company policy on disciplinary actions for employee misconduct (Ingham, 2010) (DelPo & Guerin, 2010) .

Once the preliminary investigation is conducted and the next step is fully discussed and planned the disciplinary process comes into play. The kinds of discipline that are fair and commiserate with the misconduct are varied, but most companies have policies regarding levels of infractions and how to deal with them. Some small businesses may not have these tools in place but they should. Additionally, all dealings need to be documented and developed fully to serve as examples for what to do or not to do in the future. Interpersonal dealings are always a learning experience and even if a single problem employee wreaks havoc on the workplace, once, this does not mean that this experience cannot become a positive learning experience for managers and employers, as well as a supportive lesson for other employees not involved in the misconduct. One of the best ways to make problems into positive learning experiences is to use them to help develop and/or rework an employee policy manual that could very much help to prevent problems in the future and could also allow, if done right, employees reasonable recourse for dealing with problems supportively in the future. This document could also include an employee code of ethics and should incorporate the overall goals and missions of the company (DelPo & Guerin,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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