It crops up regularly here at myHRdept, where one client or another reports that a couple of their employees are not getting on, and it’s causing a bad atmosphere. So what should employers do and what are the employment law implications?
It crops up regularly here at myHRdept, where one client or another reports that a couple of their employees are not getting on, and it’s causing a bad atmosphere.
So what’s to be done? We don’t have to like everyone we work with, but we do have to behave professionally and respectfully towards them, and that is a reasonable thing for an employer to expect of every employee. Where this isn’t the case, action needs to be taken and the earlier the better. The following steps are nearly always sensible:
- Talk to the employees, individually at first, tell them what you’re seeing, the problems it is causing and ask for an explanation – why are they not getting along – was it an incident, or something more general than that?
- Be transparent, let both employees know that you’ll be speaking with the other
- Try to gain an agreement from each that they will behave professionally
- Then meet the employees together to obtain a joint agreement
In some cases it might also be necessary to issue both employees with the Dignity at Work policy and require them to read it, sign it and return a signed copy to you. Whilst some might think this to be a tad theatrical the act of signing a declaration does have an effect. You might also think about sending one or both a ‘letter of concern’ – this is not a warning, but a step before one – if the behaviour continues, a formal disciplinary process may follow. myHRdept draft probably a couple of dozen letters like these a year for our clients and they can be an effective tool in averting a problem before things go too far.
If the informal intervention doesn’t work then we may have to consider other actions – this could be mediation (myHRdept has an ACAS trained mediator for this purpose) or formal disciplinary action against one or both employees. We might also consider moving one to a different team (being careful not to unfairly select one over the other) or even consider, after due warnings, the dismissal of one or, rarely, both of them.
This kind of dismissal might be conduct related, or in the absence of actual misconduct it might be another category of dismissal known as a ‘some other substantial reason’ (SOSR) dismissal, which may sound a little odd, but is legally recognised and perfectly fair, providing a proper process is followed. In this case under an SOSR an employee could be dismissed for failing to be able to maintain a professional working relationship with a colleague, providing that failure is having a clear negative impact on the business.
Whether the situation in hand requires formal or informal intervention one thing is clear – intervention is always necessary. Ignoring it will lead to an inevitable escalation and the more entrenched behaviours become, the harder they are to fix.