Over the years, we have assisted some clients who have had particularly difficult experiences with employees whom they have dismissed (generally before they spoke to us) or wanted to discipline for some reason. In these cases we are talking about, the employee has set out on a path of destruction against the hapless employer, driven by what appears to be rage or at least a desire to get even at any cost.
Here are some examples –
- employees who refuse to accept what appeared to the employer to be a more than reasonable financial offer to settle the matter, and instead pursued an unfair dismissal or other type of legal action to the bitter end. Some cases (not involving us, fortunately) have resulted in legal fees of over $100,000 for the employer;
- staff members who go on ‘stress leave’, relying on the generosity or greed of some less than scrupulous members of the medical profession, the inaction of insurance companies and government statutory authorities to have a paid holiday on the employer’s expense, often causing significant increases in insurance premiums over an extended period;
- an employee who disappeared with the property of the employer (worth some tens of thousands of dollars), taking the employer many months to track down and finally wrest the property back from the employee;
- launching a media campaign against the employer, causing significant loss of sales over a period of months.
On one hand you might think that the employer got their just rewards – but what if that employer was you?
Fighting the ‘System’
As mentioned above, it doesn’t really matter which Government is in power if an employee is committed to causing an employer grief. The ‘system’ isn’t always very good at penalising employees who want to get back at their employer. It can be ‘like pushing on a piece of string’ to get some Government authorities or “QANGO’s” to act.
We once had a client who had received a reliable internal report that an employee of only one week had been involved in a financial rort against the employer. When the employee (a truck driver) was asked to attend the manager’s office, he reported that he had fallen off the truck and went on to workers’ compensation.
The claim was accepted by the insurer and then the employee refused to speak with the employer about the matter. The employee’s employment then passed by the probationary period. After 12 months of requesting the insurer to review the claim, the insurer settled the injury claim directly with the employee for a considerable sum.
Another reason that the system can work for employees is the seeming natural predisposition of some people (including some judges and public servants) to accept at face value that employees have been wronged and that employers should be the ones to pay. New rights are often created under the common law to replace ones taken away by the Legislature (see related case link regarding the new duties of ‘good faith’ and ‘mutual trust and confidence’) as examples.
Some people – a minority in the community – take little responsibility for their own actions in life. Maybe their Mum and Dad unwittingly encouraged them to think that way. Teenagers often will at some stage demonstrate this tendency, but luckily life has a way of eventually beating that out of most of us as we get older. Unfortunately, some people never get over the habit and just blame others for all their woes.
Even if an employee lacks these ‘narcissistic’ tendencies, it may be that they simply believe in their right to retribution.
Whatever the reason, we have found employers significantly reduce their risk exposure to revenge attacks from employees if they just follow some basic process when discipline is involved, even more so when you are taking away their livelihood –
- Some employees may still reject most of what is being said about them – so try and stick to unarguable, objective facts. Avoid commenting on the employee’s ‘attitude’ – its what they do that is the problem, not them as a person.
- Set clear rules for what you as the employer expect from your staff – and apply them consistently.
- Protect the employee’s dignity by giving them the right of reply and listen – really listen – to them before making a decision about their fate. After all, there is a lot at stake for them.
- Take your time to make a considered decision – and don’t leave the impression you had already made your mind up before speaking with the employee.
Which of these rules wouldn’t you expect to be applied to yourself in the same situation?
And because life isn’t perfect –
- Document the process, including who said what (in the first person). At least you can point the employee to what you really said. You also might need to recall it all much later, maybe in a court.