How To Address Problems With Your Employees


The Law Of…Dealing With Difficult Employee Issues

Employers, managers or HR professionals often dread dealing with difficult situations involving their employees. It's important for employers and businesses to understand how to effectively navigate these situations within a legal framework.

David Hession, Employment Law Associate, offers some tips to help employers avoid employment disputes or even costly litigation.

Deal With The Situation Early

When an issue arises employers are often reluctant to address the problem at an early stage. Rather than risk a potentially difficult conversation with an employee, employers will often be tempted to pretend the problem does not exist, in the hope that it goes away. 

The longer the issue is left unaddressed, the greater risk there is of a damaging impact on your business. There is also a danger that the problem could get worse, and perhaps even result in costly litigation or court proceedings.

Whether the issue is a disciplinary matter or managing an employee’s absence, failing to deal with it could have a damaging impact on your other employees. Morale could be impacted and hardworking employees may become frustrated and leave the company.

Employers are encouraged to be proactive and tackle problems such as these at an early stage.           

Consider An Informal Approach

Tackling issues with employees does not always require a robust process or overly formal procedure. Whilst a time may come when a formal process is necessary, employers should not be afraid to try an informal approach before it goes that far.

Employees often react well to the employer simply sitting down and engaging with them. Listening to what your employees have to say can go a long way. By adopting this understanding approach, you can get employees on your side, which is key in dealing with any workplace problem.

By shutting employees out or refusing to engage with them, you run the risk of causing an employee to raise a grievance or even go to tribunal.

The approach taken will often be dictated by the employees’ character. Some employees react well to a softer, empathetic approach, whereas you may have to adopt a more robust up front approach with other employees – which brings us to our next tip.

Ensure The Correct Procedure Is Used 

There may come a point when an informal approach is not suitable and you may decide on a more formal process. Your business will benefit from an Employee Handbook setting out the company’s policies and procedures. This helps the employer and employee to know where they stand.

If not, then you should contact an employment solicitor or third party organisation such as ACAS before proceeding

Procedural clarity from the outset is important to avoid difficulties later on down the line. The correct procedure is not always easy to identify. For example, sometimes there can be an overlap between performance and disciplinary issues causing confusion.

In most cases following a correct procedure will reduce any litigation risk and will help to protect your business against tribunal claims.        

Consider A Practical Commercial Resolution

It may reach the stage where continuing to employ an individual has a clear and identifiable damaging impact on your business.

You may consider adopting a more practical approach. This could mean you need to dismiss an employee as soon as possible. For instance, where an employee has become physically violent or you suspect they are guilty of theft then you may need to act quickly.

Even in circumstances such as these, you should follow some form of procedure before dismissal. There are situations, however, where it may be possible to cut back on procedure in order to dismiss an employee quickly.

If an employee has less than two years' service then they will be unable to bring an unfair dismissal claim, and it may be possible to dismiss them without following the full procedures. You should still obtain advice however before taking a decision. This should not provide employers with a licence to dismiss any employee who has under two years’ continuous service.     

Explore The Settlement Option

An alternative to dismissal that you may want to explore is the option of a settlement agreement which can be entered into at any stage in the process. During the redundancy process for example, it is common for the employee to be presented with a settlement option before any dismissal takes effect.

The benefit to this is that it helps to prevent the employee from issuing any future claims. It is important to be selective when presenting settlement agreements, as you want to avoid creating a settlement culture amongst your employees.

Such agreements are normally used in two circumstances:

  • To ensure an employee leaves an organisation amicably. In this sense, settlement agreements can operate as an award by paying the employee an amount above their entitlement; or 
  • A settlement agreement can be used to protect an employer where there is a genuine threat of a claim being issued by the employee.

David Hession Comments:

"A lot of employment disputes can be avoided, particularly if employers take a pro-active approach at an early stage. Employers can often get confused or hung up on complex policies and procedures. In a lot of cases, a simple straight forward practical approach can work best for your business”

If you need any advice in dealing with a difficult employee issue, then please contact a member of our specialist employment law team either using our digital contact form or by dialling our Freephone number.


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