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It took few years of working in HR to stop being an ostrich and get comfortable, well as comfortable as one can get, to deal with dismissals. I think the turning point was when I saw, on many occasions, how employees who were given another chance used it against their employer later on. So to make it clear I deal with them comfortably when I know they are done properly and for the right reason.

Here is an example of how a situation can go from bad to worse and get expensive if you decide to turn a blind eye to a problem.

I had to dismiss an employee who stole from a company. However, that is just middle of the story. It began, before my involvement, with that person having stolen from the company but being given the benefit of the doubt (because she was a long term employee and possibly because they didn’t want to address the issue) but unfortunately she repeated the same act again. My experience shows that it is human nature for people to behave in patterns and in such cases it is not uncommon for people to try their luck again if they are not caught the first time. Without going through the whole story in detail, it took 5 months to dismiss this person (she went off sick with work related stress) and many of you won’t be surprised (or maybe you will) that she claimed Unfair Dismissal.

It probably comes as no shock to those of you who have had a similar experience, that the employee also did not turn up to the Hearing, but, the company did and it cost them over £10k in solicitors’ fees to prepare. These costs didn’t include salary cost for management’s time spent on dealing with the disciplinary, long term sickness and preparation for the actual hearing.

So, I ask the question, would dealing with the misconduct in the first instance been cheaper and less stressful or not?

When you have somebody like this in your business should you bother going through what may at first appear to be a long and drawn-out process? Experience has taught me that the answer is ‘YES’, you certainly should because if you don’t it will have implications on many accounts.

  • Firstly, you will have somebody in your business who is disruptive towards productivity and will drain other employees’ engagement.
  • Secondly, the longer you ignore it the more it will cost you. You will, eventually, end up spending hours, then days, weeks and months dealing with the individual and then, when they are finally dismissed and you can breathe again, you will hear those famous words: ‘see you at the employment tribunal’. Your adrenaline is, in the meantime, running up high on daily basis, you go home stressed and guess what? You will take it out on a family member – being irritable and disinterested in them. All you need to do is chose which one – your son, daughter or your partner? We have all done it when stressed, haven’t we? I certainly have.

Let’s take another example. You have an employee who is underperforming but you don’t address it (a very common mistake indeed). As time passes by it annoys you more and more that you are paying a salary to somebody who is not pulling his weight while other teams members are picking up his workload and funnily enough are getting annoyed too. Then you reach a point when you go to HR and tell them to ‘get rid of him immediately’ as you have had enough. HR has a few ways of dealing with it but none of them are pleasant at all for the parties concerned (including you) and let’s not even talk about how much it may cost in a Settlement Agreement, which in some cases might be the most appropriate way of dealing with the issue.

By the end you are frustrated that you paid a reasonable amount of money to somebody who hadn’t worked to his full potential for a long time instead of addressing the issue at the beginning. If you had done so the employee could have been productive again, as the problem with his underperformance could have been very simple to deal with or, he would have been dismissed fairly and you would have nothing to worry about. You would also not need to worry about money paid under a Settlement Agreement or Unfair Dismissal if you addressed the issue at the appropriate time. Spend your money wisely and on people who deserve it.

There are a number of legal grounds for a fair dismissal (eg gross misconduct, capability or qualifications for the job, redundancy, a statutory duty or restriction prohibited the employment being continued or some other substantial reason) but how to ensure that your dismissal is fair?

  • As soon as there is a problem, take professional advice on how to deal with it.
  • Unless the problem is a serious matter, address it informally. If you are lucky the problem will disappear.
  • If the informal chat doesn’t help do not delay on taking HR advice on how to go through the formal channels.
  • Don’t be on your own unless you absolutely know how to deal with the process of dismissal.
  • Forget the expense. The risk and cost of an Employment Tribunal far outweighs the cost of an HR consultant supporting you to do it right the first time. It is a fact that many business owners see the HR department as an expense until there is a fire that needs putting out. Think about the money (in some cases a lot of it) that HR can save you.

I believe that where the situation demands it, fair and timely decisions about dismissal are a must if those businesses affected are to survive and prosper. But let’s just do them for the right reasons and with humanity.

It is an unpleasant and stressful process for everybody in most cases. Sometimes it only takes a short, meaningful and possibly ‘out of your comfort zone’ conversation and ‘abracadabra’ the problem is gone. No matter what you do just don’t avoid dismissals because they are hard work and unpleasant.

We, at Sagegreen, can help you to deal with any issues you may have. Whilst we would prefer that you called us at the beginning of the problem and don’t wait until the problem is increasing your adrenaline level, if you have already taken some action and thinking ‘oops, perhaps I shouldn’t have done that’, we can help to minimise the risk to your business.

Eva Tucker, Area Director (London & South East)

Tel: 07825 442323  Email: etucker@sagegreen.com

Head Office: 01606 333677  enquiries@sagegreen.com