In our last several posts, we discussed how challenging and important feedback is for you as a manager, and for your employees. In addition to feedback, if you are a business owner or a manager for any extended period of time, you will need to confront a problem employee. Today we’re talking about the employee whose behavior at work is inappropriate. I differentiate between misconduct, which is inappropriate behavior that is blatant, intentional and perhaps illegal, and inappropriate behavior that is not blatant and intentional. Both can have serious implications for your organization and you should immediately address both, but the first type is in a different league.
Inappropriate Behavior That Is Blatant and Intentional
There is a wide range of behaviors that might be described as inappropriate. There are some inappropriate behaviors that are both serious and knowingly committed that I call misconduct. Examples include:
- Making racial slurs to co-workers
- Intentionally bypassing safety rules and procedures
- Asking for sexual favors from subordinates
- Openly harassing employees based on their race, age, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics, real or not
- Threatening violence or committing violent acts
- Viewing or downloading pornography in the workplace or through the use of company resources
You may think these don’t happen in the workplace often, but I have personally dealt with every one of the above situations in the workplace. They happen and you need to take action.
You must take steps to deal with these behaviors as soon as you become aware of them for the following reasons:
- The behaviors can keep recurring and even escalate further. For example, if an employee is making lewd comments to female employees, will they take a more serious step of groping female employees?
- The behavior creates potential legal liabilities for you and your organization. For example, sexual harassment is illegal. If it’s significant and not dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner, it can lead to charges of a hostile and discriminatory environment.
- It impacts your work environment. Inappropriate behavior can reduce the sense of safety that employees should have in the workplace. When employees don’t feel safe, their productivity and job satisfaction is reduced.
- Misconduct can lead to misconduct. Hopefully you have an employee handbook and other written documents that outline your organization’s rules and policies that you require your employees to read and sign that they have read them. Misconduct would probably be in violation of these policies and rules. If employees see other employees getting away with misconduct, they may feel they don’t have to play by the rules either.
What Do You Do?
Once you become aware of an employee’s misconduct, you should check with others who may be witnesses. If the situation involves a potential threat or theft, you should contact the police. Once you have documented that the misconduct took place, you need to meet with the employee about the behavior and provide them the opportunity to explain the situation. (Important: document all your discussions and any data.) I would advise that you then send the employee home until you reach a decision regarding their employment. At this point too, you may want to contact an attorney if there are complications to the situation.
Depending on the nature of the behavior, the employee’s previous performance, and the accounts of the situation, you may decide to terminate the employee. For serious misconduct, such as theft, violence, pornography and some situations involving harassment, termination should be the answer. It other situations such as bypassing safety equipment, you might issue a misconduct warning so that, if the behavior occurs again, you would go to immediate termination. You will need to use your good judgment.
What About Inappropriate Behavior That Isn’t Blatant or Intentional?
You can have behavior that is inappropriate and maybe even illegal, but not blatant or intentional. Poor judgment comes to mind. You still need to deal with these situations as serious issues as soon as you become aware. You would investigate to understand the circumstances. Depending on what you find, you may find that the employee didn’t do anything wrong. That would be the end of the story.
Often though, the employee may not realize the implications of their behavior and that it is not appropriate. They may not, for example, understand how their language impacts women if they have grown up in a culture that uses that language. If the behavior indicates a serious lack of judgment and the implications to the organization are significant, you could consider firing the employee.
If you don’t terminate their employment, you need to provide very direct coaching to the employee using the BIF model (behavior, impact, feeling) but I would add a W at the end so that it becomes BIFW. You should Warn them that if they continue their inappropriate behavior, they could be terminated.
There can be factors that complicate terminating an employee based on inappropriate behavior. For example, if you have an employee who recently filed a worker’s comp claim or a claim of sexual harassment and now you are terminating the employee, you may be opening yourself up charges of retaliation. This doesn’t mean that you can’t move to terminate, but you should engage a consultant or labor attorney to make sure you are doing the right things to protect your organization.
Hopefully, you won’t have to go down that path. Next week, we will discuss dealing with issues around job performance.
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