Difficult Employees Can Cause Industrial Relations Issues

In every organization, at one time or another, you are bound to find difficult employees. Why are organizations concerned about this matter?

Having been appointed properly as employees, they can raise industrial relations issues if and when you happen to make the wrong move. Unionism may test your firmness to the utmost.

It is not easy to identify whether a prospective employee will end up being difficult. One way of finding out is to ask the personal references of the applicant. Caution is advised since any wrong information about the applicant may go against the law.

Further to this, it is possible that disclosure of personal data is subject to existing laws of the country where the business operates.

If you intend to proceed, ask permission from the applicant in order to be on the safe side.

On the other hand, you can conduct the job interview to the best of your ability. But the interviewee may not give you the information that you need.

Good but Difficult Employees
Good employees can become difficult.

Handling this type of employee is not easy. Do not take any hasty action if you do not want him or her leaving your organization with the allegation of constructive dismissal. Your organization may lose valuable talents.

Usually good employees are role models to other employees. If they become a problem, several other employees may follow suit.

What you can do?
Engage the employee concerned in a private discussion. Find out what the problem is and resolve it immediately. The employee will need to participate.

Sincerity is very important in order to bring about any solution that has the potential of having lasting effects.

Empathic listening skill is required. You may initially feel that you are giving up too much of your authority. You are not. Explain clearly your position and the position of your organization.

When this fails, conduct a counseling session in the presence of at least one other officer.

Have the counseling recorded, signed by the employee and witnessed by the officer present.

A better approach to counseling is coaching. Coaching is more suitable especially for good employees whose behaviors have deteriorated or who are facing a difficult phase in their working lives.

Some writers seem to consider coaching and counseling as almost the same. However, remember that in coaching the employee makes and implements the decisions. You are there to point out the right things to do.

From Good to Difficult Employees

There are many possible reasons, both personal and work-related.

  • The employee may have a personal problem and / other problems that remain unresolved. These can include financial, health or relationship problems.
  • Organizational policies and practices, management styles, environmental factors, leadership style, unfair rewards system, can influence employee behaviors.
  • Personality change can also make an employee difficult to manage.

In order to reach a good decision, find out the cause or causes.

Difficult Employees Can Cause Lower Productivity
These employees can cause lower productivity.

If not managed well and on-time, you may end up with employee-lethargy organization-wide.

Thus, difficult employees:

  • Can cause disruption in the services provided by your organization
  • Can cause customers to stop their dealings with your organization
  • Discourage potential customers from concluding any transaction with you
  • Cause bad publicity among members of the business community and among competitors
  • Cause higher costs but lower productivity
  • Can influence other employees to follow suit

Worst Case Scenario
In certain cases, you may have to take drastic action against difficult employees.

Choose the right time. This means that the employee concerned is given time to improve and to change his or her attitude for the better.

Inform the employee in writing.

Try to arrest the behavior before it becomes worse.

When counseling and coaching fail, there is no choice but to initiate disciplinary action. This may or may not result in dismissal.

  • Give written warnings. Usually three warnings are considered adequate.
    • Indicate clearly the shortcoming or shortcomings and that the employee must change his or her behavior or attitude. And that failure to do so may result in termination.
    • The warnings must refer to similar misconduct.
  • If the warnings fail to have any effect, issue a "Show Cause" letter. The employee must give a good explanation to avoid any further disciplinary action being taken against him or her.
  • After the expiry of the period mentioned in the 'Slow Cause' letter, a hearing is conducted by an appointed panel of at least three members.
    • This is done whether or not a reply is received from the employee by the expiry date.
  • The employee is called to appear before the panel.
    • This is a "domestic inquiry" where the employee appears before a disciplinary panel to present his or her explanation.
    • Provide the employee with an ample opportunity "to be heard".
    • This is an application of principles of the Law of Natural Justice.
  • After the hearing, issue a letter to the employee on the decision of the panel.
  • The employee is normally permitted to appeal against the decision within a specified period.
    • Follow this procedure especially when your disciplinary rules and procedures state so. Provide for this appeal even if you do not have any written disciplinary rules.
    • Check relevant provisions of industrial legislation.
  • The appeal is heard. This is usually done without the presence of the employee
  • The employee is again informed about the appeal panel's decision.
    • Most disciplinary rules and procedures provide for a final appeal.
    • The collective agreement usually contains this provision.
  • The final letter will inform the employee that he or she is or is not at fault.
    • The penalty may cause the employee to lose rank or forfeit any future salary increase.
  • The most drastic action is termination for cause.

Ensure that any decision on termination is taken with extreme care.

It doesn't matter whether or not you are dealing with difficult employees.

Referral to Industrial Tribunal
Even matter such as that relating to difficult employees is an industrial relations issue.

Remember that the employee can take his or her case to an industrial tribunal.

Your organization cannot prevent employees from making use of this channel. This includes difficult employees whose service your organization had terminated.

Once the case comes before an industrial tribunal, your organization is open to public scrutiny.

You have a good case if you follow every step mentioned in your disciplinary rules and procedures. Record every detail of actions taken right from the commencement of counseling sessions. This will help you during the hearing.

Ensure that the employee is given a fair hearing based on the principles of Natural Justice.

Unionized Working Environment
A union official will usually represent its members before the Disciplinary Panel. Union membership is also open to difficult employees.

This may make things more complicated. Even then, ensure that employee representation by his or union is permitted.

This is normally provided for under the collective agreement.

All the other procedures may remain the same.

Decisions of Industrial Tribunal
A decision of an industrial tribunal is binding as law. Your organization has to abide by any decision made for or against it.

However, both employer and employee can appeal right up to the highest court in the land.

Even difficult employees who have caused your organization a lot of embarrassment and difficulties have this avenue for redress.

It can happen that a decision was taken hastily without adequate consideration of policies and procedures and industrial legislation. See to it that this does not happen.

Remember that these hearings are not cheap. And they generate a lot of negative news about your organization.

If this happen, take damage control action.

And always co-operate with all authorities concerned.

Pro-active Action in order to Control Difficult Employees
It is always a good policy to ensure that every action taken against any employee is done with due care. A better term for "to control" in this context is "to manage".

Keep up-to-date on all industrial legislation and decisions of industrial tribunals.

Seek competent legal advice. Do this from the outset, at the time when you formulate your disciplinary rules and procedures.

By doing this, you are ever ready in improving your disciplinary system and face any action taken against your organization.

Doing this helps you deal with difficult employees and other matters of a legal nature relating to your employees and employment issues.

Effective handling of disciplinary matters is one of the important things to carry out when managing people. Resolve these for the good of employees, the organization, and for the sake of other stakeholders including customers, suppliers and investors.

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