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Confronting a conflicting employee

Question:

I have a server who up-sells and has a lot of requests, but continues to cause conflict between others and slides on her work. It's not good for morale. Georgia is a work at-will state. Should I just let her go or tell her the reasons? 

– Emily Fulghum, Owner/Manager, Coleman Lake Restaurant, Midville, GA

Answer:

It sounds like you have already gotten to the point where you decided to terminate the problem employee. Presumably, before this, you already let the employee know about the behavior that you and your other employees find objectionable, gave her a chance and necessary supports to correct it, and documented all the incidents and complaints against her. Those things will all help you avoid backlash from the termination, even in an at-will state.  Remember, any employee can file a complaint. Even if you are 100% within your rights to fire her, it can cost you time and money to make your case.

As an educator, I am all about personal and professional development and opportunities for redemption. However, once you have a toxic personality in the mix, whom other employees resent, it may not be fixable.

Abby Singh, owner-operator of Canteen 900 in Forty Fort, PA had a similar situation and offers this advice: “Let that server go! I had a server just like this - good at her job, customers loved her, but bad attitude with the staff and even me. Once I let her go, morale immediately changed. Everyone was happier, and in turn, the 'weaker' servers became rising stars within the company. I even felt more in control because I exercised my right to terminate and also my obligation to make the workplace enjoyable for all. One bad egg is awful for everyone including management.” 

To your other question, about whether to just fire her or give her reasons, my advice would be to keep it simple. Your obligation is to run the best operation you can, not to make an ex-employee into a server who plays better with others. By discussing the specifics of her performance, you are opening yourself up for debate, and at the end of the challenging discussion you will be at the same place you started—with a problem employee out the door.

Finally, to protect yourself going forward, be sure to document your discipline and termination policies in your employee manual and be sure to include all duties including side work and working on a team in your job descriptions.

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