Dealing with a Difficult Employee

With the back-to-work blues now a distant memory, it's time to make way for a new year of success, profitability, and productivity at work. Employers may not however be able to achieve these goals if faced with employees that consistently arrive late, are unproductive, have a disruptive influence over other employees, disregard appropriate workplace policies and procedures or have a generally bad attitude. Employees like this can also significantly impact staff morale.

Managers in Australia who have had their patience tested for too long and decide to dismiss a difficult employee need to be aware that they could potentially face an unfair or unlawful dismissal claim. With Labor soon to remove the "fewer than 100 employees" unfair dismissal exemption, employers need to establish thorough policies and procedures if they are seeking to dismiss an employee.

Some possible strategies that can be put in place to help prevent and manage difficult employee behaviour include:

  • ensuring employees are aware of their duties and responsibilities and are appropriately trained and experienced for the job;
  • implementing procedures to alleviate the overloading of work;
  • ensuring consistency in work standards amongst all employees and avoiding unreasonable work expectations with particular employees;
  • having regular meetings to monitor performance in order to minimise the likelihood of employees being unproductive (ie, performance-based reviews)
  • checking whether there are any out-of-work circumstances affecting the employees ability to perform and attempting to accommodate them in order to reduce high levels of stress and tension affecting their performance at work;
  • assigning each employee a "go-to person" or mentor to discuss issues with and provide feedback;
  • being proactive in dealing with an issue of concern immediately rather than allowing it to continue unabated;
  • if confronting an employee about particular behaviour, encouraging open communication, acknowledging the employee's concerns, focusing on the issue at hand and not on their personality, and suggesting ways the issue can be improved;
  • documenting counselling and/or warnings provided to employees;
  • dealing consistently with employees who exhibit unsatisfactory conduct or behaviour;
  • providing an employee with the opportunity to explain their poor performance and/or conduct; and
  • seeking appropriate legal advice before deciding to dismiss an employee.
Is your organisation aware of the challenges arising from changing unfair dismissal laws? How are you dealing with them?