It's been a wild month of unflattering and unbecoming behavioural antics by the now internationally famous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. He's finally admitted to drinking in the mayor's office, drinking and driving, and smoking crack. I'm sure that's not exactly the kind of role model Toronto was looking for.
However, let's face it, in spite of everything, Ford was elected by the people, and although shaky, he continues to stand in the role. In fact, legislation prevents fellow councillors from rectifying the situation and so the only thing they can do is sanction him.
Thankfully, nonsense such as Ford's outlandish behaviour would not be tolerated in the workplace. Or would it? To be honest, there are a number of challenges to be considered when encountering inappropriate employee behaviour and a number of strategies for dealing with these situations. None of them is straightforward and many of the issues are not well managed.
For instance, I've seen employers react quickly to situations by terminating their employee without sufficient consideration for accommodation and/or due process. As you might expect, this often leads to legal action being taken against the employer. I've also seen organizational leaders, especially small-business owners, continually make up excuses for their wayward employee. These leaders truly feel sorry for the employee and they kind-heartedly worry about the employee's family to the exclusion of their own business needs.
I've also seen leaders spend a good deal of time attempting to dig deep into an employee's life in order to find some sort of psychological rationale for the employee's behaviour.
Finally, I've seen some employers fail to deal with a challenging situation of addiction or mental health because they are fearful of losing their employee, especially if they've been with their organization for a longer period of time and/or have a specialized skill.
However, if you really think about it, failing to effectively deal with tough situations of any employee misconduct and/or mental health and/or addiction issues simply harms the business as well as all the other important internal employee relationships. Like it or not, employees are very observant, and if these challenging issues are not dealt with, respect for the leader will be lost. When this happens, overall employee productivity typically declines and the organizational culture becomes dysfunctional. On the other hand, employee colleagues start to experience their own mental-health problems that soon can lead to absenteeism, increased disability claims and/or employee turnover.
So, the question to be asked is: what is the most effective means of dealing with these employee situations be they extreme or not? The answer lies in having specific human resource policies and procedures that ensure compliance with legislation, ensure a thorough yet fair process and involves training managers to follow these procedures.
First of all, the policy needs to state the expectations for all employees with respect to professional behavior and the fact the organization has the right to take corrective action, which may include termination of employment, depending on the severity of the offence or performance issue. Secondly, the policy needs to create a framework that ensures any and all steps comply with legislation. Deploying the following steps will ensure a thorough yet fair investigation and treatment of your employees.
Quickly assess the situation
Meet with the employee and gather the facts related to the "what, where, when, where, why and how" of the incident(s). Situations related to a breach of company policy or a lack of communication can often be dealt with through a quick informal inquiry. More serious situations such as inappropriate personal behavior and/or addictions will require a more formal and comprehensive approach. This step provides an opportunity to ensure managers and supervisors have complied with employment law as well as company policies and minimizes the risk of creating embarrassing mistakes.
Gather preliminary facts
Gather any and all facts and documents you have about the situation(s) and take note of any witnesses that may need interviewing. Use this information to determine if you indeed do have all the facts and/or if more information is required. Determine the particular documents you will need, including the appropriate policies related to the situation. Determine if there have been similar incidents in the past, how these were handled, what impact this has on your current situation and what direction you should take for the current situation.
Determine an investigation strategy
Determine the steps you will take to investigate the situation as well as who will conduct the investigation. In most cases, the human-resource manager can conduct the investigation. However, the situation may call for the expertise of an outside specialist who can be impartial and/or who may have professional background related to the issue at hand. Prepare an investigation work plan and get approval from a senior manager.
Interview all stakeholders
If interviews with other employees are required, then determine who will be interviewed and in what particular order. Create a set of open-ended questions that will allow you to gain a broad understanding of the full scope of the situation. Interview each employee involved including witnesses. Refer to the human-resource policy pertaining to the situation and help the interviewees understand it. To prevent misunderstanding, it often helps to have the stakeholders document their story and then sign and date them. Ask interviewees for suggested solutions. Consult specialists if required.
Document your interviews
Care must be taken to accurately document the employee interviews. Be sure to write down facts versus opinions and/or assumptions. Include direct quotes. Create a separate document for each interview. Be sure to date your documents.
Evaluate your information
Review your interview notes, identify the key issues and compare and contrast each individual's point of view. Analyze the issues, determine if the incident was isolated and/or part of a pattern. Assess the impact on the employee personally as well as from a work productivity and health-related point of view. Review your policies and make a determination of where exactly the truth lies. Prepare a written report of your findings and recommendations and retain this with your personnel files.
Determine appropriate action
Once you have confirmed the facts of the matter, review your progressive disciplinary steps and determine an appropriate action. Once again, this can range from a "slap on the wrist" to immediate termination. Most organizations have a progressive disciplinary process ranging from a verbal reprimand, suspensions, leaves of absence with or without pay, sick leave and/or termination. Document everything in writing.
Conduct a followup
If your situation has been volatile, guaranteed there will be some emotional upset that requires attention. This can be managed through trauma counselling, group discussion or private interviews. Employees must be made to feel safe in their workplace. In addition, this is a good time to determine if your policies need to be revised and/or if managers require additional education and/or refresher training especially as it relates to mental health and addiction issues.
Thankfully, most employee-relations issues don't parallel those of Mayor Ford and as well, most organizational leaders have the authority to take decisive steps to rectify the situation. However, at the same time, managers must understand their own policies and procedures so they can deal with any and all complaints and personnel issues in a fair manner that assures due process for the employee.
Source: Interview with Paul Therrien, senior labour and employee relations consultant.
Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group.
She can be contacted at