Over the years, we have assisted some clients who have had very difficult experiences with employees whom they have dismissed (generally before they spoke to us) or wanted to discipline for some reason. In the cases, the employee had 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 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 them;
- Launching a media campaign against the employer, causing significant reputational damage and loss of sales over a period of months.
These type of employees are what we call “Narcissistic”. Typically in a social context, we describe someone as narcissistic if they are self-absorbed and pompous. When an employee is considered narcissistic, we still focus on those qualities, but we emphasise their negative effect in the workplace. (Read more about narcissistic employees here).
In some cases you would think the employer is getting what they deserve – 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 works in favour of 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.
A few people take little responsibility for their own actions in life. Teenagers often demonstrate this tendency, but luckily as we mature, we lose that tendency. 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, we recommend you to document the process, including who said what (in the first person). At least you can point the employee to what you really said. It might come in handy if you need to recall it all much later, maybe in a court.