Dealing with Difficult Employees

By Kathleen Pohlid Founder & Managing Member, Pohlid, PLLC | September 29, 2013

The problems difficult employees present can be varied. However, regardless of the problem - absenteeism, poor attitude, workplace harassment, unprofessional demeanor, rudeness, disrespect, or other unacceptable conduct – there are measures establishments can take to address the problem. Addressing employment problems can be a two-edge sword for employers, especially when there are concerns that the employee may assert that the disciplinary action taken against them was for an illegal reason or in retaliation for exercising a legal right.

While there is no guarantee to prevent employment legal action, there are measures employers can take to address problems involving difficult employees and minimize potential liability. Here are ten tips to do so:

1. Lay the Foundation Before You Hire

Every establishment should have equal employment opportunity (EEO) and standards of conduct policies that apply to all employees, work rules, and job descriptions setting forth the essential functions for each job. The best evidence of the existence of these measures is a written document. Establishing these policies before hiring is important because it puts employees on notice as to an employer's expectation regarding employee conduct and performance expectations.

An employer's commitment to EEO is an important measure to protect against liability involving discrimination and workplace harassment laws. At a minimum, an employer's EEO policy should express the employer's commitment to equal employment opportunities for qualified employees and applicants regardless of their race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status and other characteristic or status protected by federal, state and local laws. Since some states provide additional legal protections – such as protection based upon marital status and sexual orientation – establishments should consult with counsel in drafting their EEO policy.

The EEO policy must go beyond merely reciting the employer's commitment to EEO. It must also address the following: (1) confirm that the policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment; (2) strongly communicate that discrimination and harassment regardless of the source will not be tolerated; (3) give assurance that employees will be protected against retaliation for reporting, objecting to, or making a complaint of harassment or discrimination, as well as, participating in complaint proceedings before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); (4) establish procedures for employees to effectively make complaints regarding violations of the Company's EEO and standards of conduct policies; (5) provide assurance that the confidentiality of harassment complaints will be protected to the extent that it is possible to do so; and (6) provide assurance that immediate and appropriate corrective action will be taken to address discrimination and harassment. Employer procedures for reporting violations should provide employees with the ability to bypass supervisors or other persons who the employee contends violated or ignored company policies.

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