It’s understandable that as a business owner and employer, certain members of your staff will occasionally take you to the edge of patience. Whether there are problems around lateness, poor output, unsafe practices or terrible attitude – there some staff members who you know will probably just have to go. When faced with a worker who you simply no longer want on your work floor, it pays to think through the best steps to take in particular circumstances.
As tempting as it can sometimes be, sacking someone in the heat of the moment can cause significant longer-term difficulties for many employers. While some extreme conduct will justify immediate dismissal, most situations will call for a more measured approach. So what sorts of misconduct could be described as ‘serious’? Unfortunately, due to the diverse and sometimes bizarre ways that humans can and do misbehave, there is no clear-cut list of every type of conduct relevant to employee dismissal decisions. Practically speaking, criminal activity such as theft, assault or fraud will in many cases justify immediate employer action. But there are also countless borderline cases of employee misconduct. Industrial courts and commissions have grappled with many of these across the years, with varying outcomes for employers. Experts in the field of industrial law are able to assist in gauging the right approach for your situation.
In most cases of unsatisfactory conduct on the part of an employee, the industrial relations system can provide helpful guidance on the correct process for dismissal. Current industrial law and applicable awards will often contain the steps that an employer needs to take prior to terminating the employment of a worker. Courts and commissions tend to take a dim view of instant dismissal without any prior warning, except in rare cases. Depending upon the worker’s job level, duties, and the type of misconduct, it is generally advisable for employers to have carried out clear and documented remedial actions, such as written warnings or transcribed meetings, prior to dismissal.
It is not uncommon for an employer to decide to sack a worker on the spot, no matter what the consequences. Walking them to the gate can seem like a small price to pay for restoring the business to productivity and calm. The significant costs of such a decision can however come in a number of forms. For example, if the worker takes successful action against the employer for unfair dismissal, the business might well be forced to pay not just for quantified losses but for the legal costs of defence. Further, a wrongly dismissed worker might claim that they have suffered a psychological injury due to ‘unreasonable management action’ at the work site, particularly if heated words have been exchanged. Aside from visible costs, preparing defence materials and speaking to lawyers and claims managers can also extract time from the business that most employers simply can’t afford.
Sometimes it can take every ounce of restraint not to instantly ‘walk’ a worker whose conduct is seriously bad. And in certain cases, employers will need to do just that, for safety and legal reasons. In the alternative, it can pay to hold your fire and seek some advice on the issue. Talking the matter through with an expert in workplace matters does two things – it helps you vent your spleen to a third party, and it gives you the opportunity to find the best solution to this particular employee problem.