Eight Legal Employment Law and HR Consultants

Difficult Employees!

We’ve all come across employees who are just, well, difficult!

They don’t do anything major, but there are multiple, small incidents where they break a rule or refuse to engage with a new policy – they seem to think they’re somehow ‘above the law’. But perhaps they’re not – a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision found that a dismissal due to multiple breaches of a new internal reporting procedure was, in fact, fair. We’re not suggesting you rush to sack someone on the basis of this, since you might not be so lucky….
But maybe there’s another way forward?

The story reminded us of a problem faced by one of our member practices recently. A vet who had worked for the practice for five years had lost her initial enthusiasm, and had started making negative comments to her colleagues. When a new protocol was introduced for dealing with in-patients, she declared it a ‘waste of time’ and ‘stupid’. She didn’t outright refuse to implement it, but did the bare minimum, and cut corners wherever possible. When the nursing team (who were solidly behind the new protocol) tried to make her follow the procedure, she was rude and dismissive. Things escalated a few months later when she was overheard criticising the Directors, accusing them of having ‘favourites’ and complaining that she was being treated unfairly. The atmosphere in the practice was becoming tense, and factions were developing.

The practice contacted us for advice, and we explained their options. A disciplinary process would be time-consuming, and likely to lead to more acrimony. Dismissing her was an option, but a very risky one. Although initially reluctant to spend money, the practice decided that a Settlement Agreement would be the best way forward, and invited the vet to a protected conversation. James conducted all the negotiations with her solicitor, and the whole situation was resolved within three weeks, at a cost of just £5,000 (compared to the £15,000 she’d originally requested!).

Many practice owners are, understandably, resistant to the idea of paying off poor performers. It’s vital, though, to consider the cost of not acting – in management time, lost turnover and, ultimately, the loss of your best team members, who become frustrated and disillusioned. A tribunal payout could cost considerably more, even without factoring in the cost of your time in defending a claim. And don’t assume that you’re doing the employee a disservice – it’s not unusual to hear of ex-employees who have remained on good terms with the practice, and gone on to find a new job in which they’re much happier. Likewise, practice owners find they are enjoying going to work again, and often find the more harmonious atmosphere is matched with an increase in profits too.

Settlement agreements aren’t right for every situation, but they can provide a rapid, cost-effective and low risk (nothing is ever 100% risk-free in employment law) way of removing an employee who is no longer aligned with the practice (or has become downright toxic). As always, take independent, specialist advice before you begin.

(You can read the details of the tribunal case at Mbubaegbu v Homerton University Hospital if that’s your sort of thing!).

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