Up close and personal

What do you do about difficult employees who antagonise colleagues?  Through these fictional scenarios, Melanie
Hunt offers advice on dealing with negative behaviour

Personality clashes

Julie is an administrative assistant and Jane is her boss. Julie and Jane
have a personality clash and are often making nasty jibes at each other. Julie
regularly complains that Jane gives her all the boring jobs and Jane regularly
complains about Julie’s poor performance. This has gone on for some time but no
one has ever taken the matter any further.

At annual assessment time, Jane gives Julie a very poor assessment which
means that Julie receives no annual bonus. The company’s grievance procedure
provides that formal grievances are to be pursued with an employee’s manager.
Julie brings a grievance against Jane, but Jane refuses to hear the grievance.
As the HR manager what do you do?

MH comments Julie may have a claim for constructive dismissal if she
has at least one year’s service due to Jane’s refusal to allow her to exercise
her right to bring a grievance under the company’s contractual grievance
procedure. There may also have been breach of the implied term of trust and
confidence at an earlier stage when Jane gave Julie a poor annual assessment,
resulting in Julie receiving no bonus. However, this would have to be subject
to further investigation.

Although the company’s grievance procedure is contractual and states that
the grievance must be pursued with Jane, this clearly is inappropriate and you
should conduct a grievance hearing to attempt to rectify the position.

Furthermore, it would be sensible to amend the company’s contractual
grievance procedure to provide that where the grievance is against the
employee’s immediate manager, the employee may notify his or her HR manager,
who will conduct the grievance proceedings.

Also, potentially you would need to take disciplinary action against Jane
depending on the outcome of the investigation.

Personal Grievance

In the course of dealing with Julie’s grievance against Jane, it comes to
light that there are non-work related reasons why Jane and Julie do not get on,
namely that Jane is having an affair with Julie’s husband, John. Julie’s problems
are far more deep rooted than initially indicated. She is having some serious
marital problems. How do you resolve these issues?

MH comments Consider whether external support services would be
useful here.

– Consider whether it would assist to give Julie some paid leave.

– Think about what to do about the work-related grievance. Consider whether
it would be as well to put this on hold while Julie resolves her marital

– Think about how to deal with Jane. This is not a work-related matter and
therefore you should question to what extent you should involve yourself.
Nevertheless, this is having significant impact in the workplace and it is
unlikely that Julie and Jane can continue to work together.

– Be careful not to be judgmental regarding the affair.

Problems with attitude/alcohol

Annabel is a manager in a large department store. She is typically in charge
of the ladies underwear department and is very good at her job. She has worked
there for 17 years and has a reputation for being tough but fair.

Her boss, Simon, has been with the company for two and a half years. He is a
university graduate and is on the graduate "high flyers" course. He
is known to be a bit of a wide boy. He is good at his job when he puts his mind
to it and is very popular within the company.

It is 3pm on a Friday afternoon and a distressed Annabel comes to see you in
HR. She says that she was trying to conduct a staff training course this
afternoon when Simon barged into the meeting and demanded to see her on the
spurious excuse of going through some figures. When she tried to go through
them with him, he was not interested. He was obstructive in his manner and had
clearly been drinking.

Annabel says that this is not the first time that she has smelt alcohol on
his breath. She also tells you that she knows of other employees who have
noticed this in the past but that they will not come forward for fear of losing
their jobs. She is also concerned because he kept referring to her as the
"battle axe".

By now, it is 3pm and both she and Simon are due to finish their shifts at

MH comments Depending on the company’s policy on drinking alcohol at
work, this may be an offence of gross misconduct. In addition, potentially
there are other misconduct issues here relating to Simon’s attitude to Annabel and
the fact that it is alleged that he has called her a "battle axe".

This clearly needs to be investigated further, ideally today.

– Take a full statement from Annabel.

– Consider whether Annabel has any axe to grind against her boss.

– Call Simon in and listen to his story.

– Consider what he says; does he admit to having been drinking?

– Consider the company’s alcohol policy (if any) and take Simon through it.

– If he is denying drinking more than one, consider holding a disciplinary
hearing after an investigation;

– As part of your investigation ensure that you speak to the attendees of
the training course and anyone else who may have seen the incidents that

It will be more difficult to investigate Annabel’s allegation that Simon has
smelt of alcohol in the past if people are not prepared to come forward.

However, individuals who work closely with Simon should be asked this
question. If necessary they can be assured that their evidence will be kept
confidential if this is a concern for them.

– Ensure that the disciplinary hearing is in accordance with your
disciplinary procedure. This will probably mean that you as the disciplining
officer should not conduct the disciplinary hearing.

– Only once a full investigation has been carried out and Simon has been
given the opportunity to state his case should the disciplining officer decide
what penalties would be appropriate in the circumstances.

Melanie Hunt is an associate at McDermott Will &Emery

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