It’s stressful for the manager when an employee does not meet expectations. Much thought often goes into issuing them with a warning. Very few managers enjoy this process—many actually dread it with a passion. So they procrastinate. Here we offer tips for staying on track to deal with a difficult staff member.

Act fast

Once you feel it is appropriate to give an employee a warning—don’t hesitate. Start the disciplinary process straight away.

Send the letter inviting them to the meeting immediately, even if they are on leave. Walls have ears, and once the employee gets wind of what’s going on, often they will go to the doctor and put in a stress claim.

Once you send the letter, you have started the process of ‘reasonable management action’ and a stress-based WorkCover claim won’t hold up.

After you start the disciplinary process, it’s essential to follow the process through completely. You need robust procedures and supporting documentation in place. This has two purposes. It ensures procedural fairness and it protect your position should the employee take action against you.

Follow up

Sometimes the process starts well:

  • the invitation to the meeting is sent
  • the meeting is held
  • the evidence and employee’s response is considered
  • the decision is made to issue a written warning
  • the employee is duly advised…

….but then the warning letter never gets issued!

This can happen because of the difficulty of:

  • articulating the problems
  • creating performance improvement plans, and
  • setting quantifiable outcomes.

So, the whole process achieved thus far is wasted.

It’s essential to keep the momentum going. Set clear and reasonable expectations and time frames to review conduct or performance. And don’t let the matter drop.

If the situation improves—have a meeting to this effect. Explain that should the earlier poor performance or behaviour return, the employee will again face disciplinary action. Don’t assume the problem has gone away.

Address complex issues

What about when different types of issues occur with the same employee?

Can two separate warnings both count if it gets to the point where you want to terminate the employee? For example, if an employee has received a performance warning relating to quality of work, and then faces disciplinary action for say unauthorised absenteeism.

There is no straightforward answer. There are many influencing factors, such as:

  • the severity of the issues
  • the links between the issues
  • how the earlier warnings were worded
  • performance or behavioural changes since the last warning etc

It’s a veritable mine-field to negotiate!

Consider the employee’s wellbeing

Disciplining staff is a complex and stressful task. And it’s fraught with risk for the employer. Sometimes employees react badly to disciplinary action and it is imperative that strategies are in place to deal with this as well.

Contact HR Gurus if you need:

  • a check up to ensure your disciplinary system policies and procedures are adequate, or
  • support to manage a difficult employee

One of our experienced consultants will be happy to help.

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