Business owners often come to me when they’ve had someone behave poorly in their business, to the point that it would be considered misconduct. Often the owner has never considered that misconduct would ever be an issue in their business and now it’s the only thing they can think about! I’ve worked as an HR practitioner for over 20 years and I’ve also owned my own business. I can tell you - you might feel invincible now, but even I found dealing with misconduct in my own business emotionally draining. Dealing with misconduct is never pleasant, but how you deal with it is vital to ensuring it doesn’t impact your business long term. So, what do you need to take into consideration?
Always keep things fair
Employment law is guided by the principles of natural justice. This means you need to approach any situation in a fair and reasonable manner, this is particularly hard when you’re tired, stressed, and cash flow is tight. It’s important to take a step back, take deep breaths, and start by sorting the facts of what’s happened – talk to people that might have been around and seen the incident, look for any evidence, do whatever you can before jumping to conclusions. Never assume what the outcome of a disciplinary process will be, even if you’re convinced that misconduct has occurred. Many employers have been tripped up by assuming an employee’s wrongdoing. Don’t act irrationally. Act fair.
Hear from the employee
Talk to the employee themselves about what’s gone on. There may be a very straightforward explanation! Otherwise, once you’ve established enough facts to support possible misconduct, write to the employee detailing each allegation and invite them to attend a meeting to discuss the alleged incident. Remember, you need to be unbiased – make sure your letter reflects this. Also, let your employee know they can bring along a support person or representative, who can speak for them and support them if needed. You need to give your employee a chance to have their say with someone who can help ensure they can articulate their response.
You might be nervous for this meeting – that’s completely normal! The letter you’ve written can help serve as an agenda to talk through the key points, reminding the employee of the breaches and consequences and the possible outcome (a warning or dismissal). If the employee provides an explanation that you feel doesn’t stack up, probe and ask more questions. This isn’t about tripping the employee up, but rather to understand the facts of what happened. There is a lot at stake, so determining the facts is critical to the decision-making process. Often you will need to adjourn for several hours, or longer, to deliberate on the explanations the employee has provided, or to follow-up any new lines of information.
Once you’ve reached a decision you’ll need to communicate this in writing – follow up verbally too if required. If dismissal is your intention, then it is good practice to invite the employee back to a second meeting where you would propose dismissal to the employee, give them a final opportunity to comment on the proposed dismissal, and provide any final information that might affect a decision. This is particularly relevant where the allegations are not so clear-cut. Remember, there is a lot at stake for the employee, and you also want to reach the right decision.
How can you be prepared?
I always ask business owners if they have a code of conduct (or documented “house rules”). That lets employees know what’s expected of them so you can hold them to account if a situation ever came up. For example, do your employees know they can’t go out and drink heavily on a Friday night while in work gear branded with your logo?
When I work with business owners, I always want to get them to a point where they’re confident to run their own process, but if a situation were to come up I can mentor them through it. Make sure you’re prepared and have support and guidance where you need it, it can be an emotionally draining process to go through.
We can help!
If you’re going through misconduct in your business, let’s talk it through. I can provide guidance and ensure you’re being fair and sound, while giving you some confidence for future incidents that might come up. Get in touch by calling 0800 555 024, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our information page.