Break­ing bad

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

IT’S been a wild month of un­flat­ter­ing and un­be­com­ing be­havioural an­tics by the now in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. He’s fi­nally ad­mit­ted to drink­ing in the mayor’s of­fice, drink­ing and driv­ing, and smok­ing crack. I’m sure that’s not ex­actly the kind of role model Toronto was look­ing for.

How­ever, let’s face it, in spite of ev­ery­thing, Ford was elected by the peo­ple, and al­though shaky, he con­tin­ues to stand in the role. In fact, leg­is­la­tion pre­vents fel­low coun­cil­lors from rec­ti­fy­ing the sit­u­a­tion and so the only thing they can do is sanc­tion him.

Thank­fully, non­sense such as Ford’s out­landish be­hav­iour would not be tol­er­ated in the work­place. Or would it? To be hon­est, there are a num­ber of chal­lenges to be con­sid­ered when en­coun­ter­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate em­ployee be­hav­iour and a num­ber of strate­gies for deal­ing with th­ese sit­u­a­tions. None of them is straight­for­ward and many of the is­sues are not well man­aged.

For in­stance, I’ve seen em­ploy­ers re­act quickly to sit­u­a­tions by ter­mi­nat­ing their em­ployee with­out suf­fi­cient con­sid­er­a­tion for ac­com­mo­da­tion and/or due process. As you might ex­pect, this of­ten leads to le­gal ac­tion be­ing taken against the em­ployer. I’ve also seen or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­ers, es­pe­cially small-busi­ness own­ers, con­tin­u­ally make up ex­cuses for their way­ward em­ployee. Th­ese lead­ers truly feel sorry for the em­ployee and they kind-heart­edly worry about the em­ployee’s fam­ily to the ex­clu­sion of their own busi­ness needs.

I’ve also seen lead­ers spend a good deal of time at­tempt­ing to dig deep into an em­ployee’s life in or­der to find some sort of psy­cho­log­i­cal ra­tio­nale for the em­ployee’s be­hav­iour.

Fi­nally, I’ve seen some em­ploy­ers fail to deal with a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion of ad­dic­tion or men­tal health be­cause they are fear­ful of los­ing their em­ployee, es­pe­cially if they’ve been with their or­ga­ni­za­tion for a longer pe­riod of time and/or have a spe­cial­ized skill.

How­ever, if you re­ally think about it, fail­ing to ef­fec­tively deal with tough sit­u­a­tions of any em­ployee mis­con­duct and/or men­tal health and/ or ad­dic­tion is­sues sim­ply harms the busi­ness as well as all the other im­por­tant in­ter­nal em­ployee re­la­tion­ships. Like it or not, em­ploy­ees are very ob­ser­vant, and if th­ese chal­leng­ing is­sues are not dealt with, re­spect for the leader will be lost. When this hap­pens, over­all em­ployee pro­duc­tiv­ity typ­i­cally de­clines and the or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture be­comes dys­func­tional. On the other hand, em­ployee col­leagues start to ex­pe­ri­ence their own men­tal-health prob­lems that soon can lead to ab­sen­teeism, in­creased dis­abil­ity claims and/or em­ployee turnover.

So, the ques­tion to be asked is: what is the most ef­fec­tive means of deal­ing with th­ese em­ployee sit­u­a­tions be they ex­treme or not? The an­swer lies in hav­ing spe­cific hu­man re­source poli­cies and pro­ce­dures that en­sure com­pli­ance with leg­is­la­tion, en­sure a thor­ough yet fair process and in­volves train­ing man­agers to fol­low th­ese pro­ce­dures.

First of all, the pol­icy needs to state the ex­pec­ta­tions for all em­ploy­ees with re­spect to pro­fes­sional be­hav­ior and the fact the or­ga­ni­za­tion has the right to take cor­rec­tive ac­tion, which may in­clude ter­mi­na­tion of em­ploy­ment, de­pend­ing on the sever­ity of the of­fence or per­for­mance is­sue. Se­condly, the pol­icy needs to cre­ate a frame­work that en­sures any and all steps com­ply with leg­is­la­tion. De­ploy­ing the fol­low­ing steps will en­sure a thor­ough yet fair in­ves­ti­ga­tion and treat­ment of your em­ploy­ees.

Quickly as­sess the sit­u­a­tion Meet with the em­ployee and gather the facts re­lated to the “what, where, when, where, why and how” of the in­ci­dent(s). Sit­u­a­tions re­lated to a breach of com­pany pol­icy or a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion can of­ten be dealt with through a quick in­for­mal in­quiry. More se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tions such as in­ap­pro­pri­ate per­sonal be­hav­ior and/or ad­dic­tions will re­quire a more for­mal and com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach. This step pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to en­sure man­agers and su­per­vi­sors have com­plied with em­ploy­ment law as well as com­pany poli­cies and min­i­mizes the risk of cre­at­ing em­bar­rass­ing mis­takes.

Gather pre­lim­i­nary facts Gather any and all facts and doc­u­ments you have about the sit­u­a­tion(s) and take note of any wit­nesses that may need in­ter­view­ing. Use this in­for­ma­tion to de­ter­mine if you in­deed do have all the facts and/or if more in­for­ma­tion is re­quired. De­ter­mine the par­tic­u­lar doc­u­ments you will need, in­clud­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate poli­cies re­lated to the sit­u­a­tion. De­ter­mine if there have been sim­i­lar in­ci­dents in the past, how th­ese were han­dled, what im­pact this has on your cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and what di­rec­tion you should take for the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. De­ter­mine an in­ves­ti­ga­tion strat­egy De­ter­mine the steps you will take to in­ves­ti­gate the sit­u­a­tion as well as who will con­duct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. In most cases, the hu­man­re­source man­ager can con­duct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. How­ever, the sit­u­a­tion may call for the ex­per­tise of an out­side spe­cial­ist who can be im­par­tial and/or who may have pro­fes­sional back­ground re­lated to the is­sue at hand. Pre­pare an in­ves­ti­ga­tion work plan and get ap­proval from a se­nior man­ager.

In­ter­view all stake­hold­ers If in­ter­views with other em­ploy­ees are re­quired, then de­ter­mine who will be in­ter­viewed and in what par­tic­u­lar or­der. Cre­ate a set of open-ended ques­tions that will al­low you to gain a broad un­der­stand­ing of the full scope of the sit­u­a­tion. In­ter­view each em­ployee in­volved in­clud­ing wit­nesses. Re­fer to the hu­man­re­source pol­icy per­tain­ing to the sit­u­a­tion and help the in­ter­vie­wees un­der­stand it. To pre­vent mis­un­der­stand­ing, it of­ten helps to have the stake­hold­ers doc­u­ment their story and then sign and date them. Ask in­ter­vie­wees for sug­gested so­lu­tions. Consult spe­cial­ists if re­quired.

Doc­u­ment your in­ter­views Care must be taken to ac­cu­rately doc­u­ment the em­ployee in­ter­views. Be sure to write down facts ver­sus opin­ions and/or as­sump­tions. In­clude di­rect quotes. Cre­ate a sep­a­rate doc­u­ment for each in­ter­view. Be sure to date your doc­u­ments.

Eval­u­ate your in­for­ma­tion Re­view your in­ter­view notes, iden­tify the key is­sues and com­pare and con­trast each in­di­vid­ual’s point of view. An­a­lyze the is­sues, de­ter­mine if the in­ci­dent was iso­lated and/or part of a pat­tern. As­sess the im­pact on the em­ployee per­son­ally as well as from a work pro­duc­tiv­ity and health-re­lated point of view. Re­view your poli­cies and make a de­ter­mi­na­tion of where ex­actly the truth lies. Pre­pare a writ­ten re­port of your find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions and re­tain this with your per­son­nel files. De­ter­mine ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion Once you have con­firmed the facts of the mat­ter, re­view your pro­gres­sive dis­ci­plinary steps and de­ter­mine an ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion. Once again, this can range from a “slap on the wrist” to im­me­di­ate ter­mi­na­tion. Most or­ga­ni­za­tions have a pro­gres­sive dis­ci­plinary process rang­ing from a ver­bal rep­ri­mand, sus­pen­sions, leaves of ab­sence with or with­out pay, sick leave and/or ter­mi­na­tion. Doc­u­ment ev­ery­thing in writ­ing.

Con­duct a fol­lowup If your sit­u­a­tion has been volatile, guar­an­teed there will be some emo­tional up­set that re­quires at­ten­tion. This can be man­aged through trauma coun­selling, group dis­cus­sion or pri­vate in­ter­views. Em­ploy­ees must be made to feel safe in their work­place. In ad­di­tion, this is a good time to de­ter­mine if your poli­cies need to be re­vised and/ or if man­agers re­quire ad­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion and/or re­fresher train­ing es­pe­cially as it re­lates to men­tal health and ad­dic­tion is­sues.

Thank­fully, most em­ployee-re­la­tions is­sues don’t par­al­lel those of Mayor Ford and as well, most or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­ers have the au­thor­ity to take de­ci­sive steps to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion. How­ever, at the same time, man­agers must un­der­stand their own poli­cies and pro­ce­dures so they can deal with any and all com­plaints and per­son­nel is­sues in a fair man­ner that as­sures due process for the em­ployee.

Source: In­ter­view with Paul Ther­rien, se­nior labour and

em­ployee re­la­tions con­sul­tant.

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