When employees let down the Company

Much has been said and written about employee legal rights during layoffs, unfair treatment by bosses and workplace discrimination. The WWW is teeming with articles on these and related topics and I have to say most of the ones I have read make sense too. After all, employees are human beings deserving respect and dignity, fair treatment and non-discrimination. All very justified.

However, when I reverse my search …in that, when employers are let down by the employees, I find almost nothing on the net. Either its on page 89 of google search or there is a scanty paragraph about legal recourse available to the employers. Every person worth his/her salt knows that legal recourse should be the last choice, not the first one.

Maybe this is symbolic of the volume of cases where employees are hurt/offended/harmed by the actions of their superiors as opposed to the opposite. So, I decided to be the devil’s advocate here and write down what I feel on this “hard to research & find” subject.

The way I look at it is the employer and employees are both discrete entities. Both have rights and responsibilities. Most well managed organisations have rule books, codes of conduct, anti-harassment policies and grievance redressal mechanisms. However, if you read between the lines, these are more for employee protection than employer protection. It is generally understood (and true) that employer is a stronger legal entity and hence most of the aforesaid documents & policies are articulated for the purposes of protecting the weaker group (read “employees”).

So, in the face of such overwhelming support for one side, what does the other side do? I have come across cases where an employee knowingly joined another organisation during the recent lockdown period by forging documents and signatures of the first employer (and confronted he denied any wrongdoing); another employee wilfully broke the “lock-in” period with her employer which was a part of her contract; yet another employee did not update his social media accounts even after leaving the company for months giving a misleading impression to his social circle; plus there are abundant cases where employees fudging their CVs or inflating their salaries to get a higher paying or better job; revealing confidential information of the company to acquaintances and friends either as a favour or on a consideration basis. Happens all the time.

I agree to the fact that a company is not akin to a prison and as such, is such is not bound by prison like rules. But I also believe that the employer should and must take action against wilfully erring employees especially if they have been forewarned. It’s the definition of this delicate word “action” that requires qualification. Employer, as widely agreed, being the stronger side should take action only which is proportionate to the guilt of the erring employee.

Here are some measures which employers could follow to ensure that they are not taken for a ride and even if they are then what could be the countermeasures:

  1. Prevention is better than cure. This is the best way to not having to deal with misconduct. The Board or CEO should ensure a company policy that promotes transparency, openness, ownership of work/mistakes and respecting everyone. Firing someone on self-admission of a mistake is a recipe for future misconduct.
  2. Communicate what the company thinks is a misconduct. Explain the company policy with everyday examples and FAQs – many times employees (especially the new recruits) do not know where they are crossing the line. Once action is taken against them, they feel discriminated or harassed.
  3. Make a process for what happens when an employee is alleged to have misconducted.
  4. In companies of medium to large size, have at least one grievance redressal officer who could listen to the employees impartially and convey to the discipline committee. In smaller companies this role needs to be handled by the HR Manager or the CEO.
  5. Differentiate between minor misconduct and gross misconduct. Non[1]adherence to work timings, breaching deadlines, inappropriate language, inappropriate attire are all examples of minor misconduct. Fraud, Stealing, Sexual Harassment, physical violence, damage to company property or assets are gross misconduct.
  6. The Employer’s response should be according to the level of misconduct and never more than it. One response action cannot and should not fit all misconducts.
  7. The Employer should never blame the pond for the fish. For an offence by an employee, the team/department shouldn’t have to pay the price.

As an old saying goes – “you can’t clap with one hand”. Employees need the employer as much as the employer needs them, regardless of booming economy job market, rare & valuable skills. Let’s face it: who wants to lose job unceremoniously that jeopardises income and promotion in the short term and career and status in the long term. So, I go back to what I wrote earlier: The employer and employees are both discrete entities. But in order to function well, both need to understand and respect each other’s point of view and know where the boundaries are.

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