It would be wonderful if employees never make mistakes and always do a perfect job. But we’re all human; on-the-job errors are part and parcel of working in a practice. That begs this question: What do you do when a staff member messes up and how do you correct him?
Here are some suggestions on how to properly correct your staff:
As part of this overall process, you must have written job descriptions and office policies that clearly delineate which tasks a person is responsible for on his/her job and the overall working guidelines for the office, respectively. The reason that proper, written job descriptions and office policies are so important is that you should use them as part of your correction procedure. Unfortunately, very few practice owners have them in place.
For starters, if you need to correct a staff member, make sure you review any specific disciplinary policies that you have issued, so that your actions are consistent with them. For example, if your policy states that proven theft results in an automatic discharge, you would not utilize a gradient approach to termination by merely reprimanding someone guilty of stealing.
Typically, the first step in correcting a staff member is to direct his attention to the specific item he violated, as delineated in his job description or in your written policies, indicating the appropriate action that he failed to take or the inappropriate action that he did take. Direct the staff member to reread the policy and/or job description. Ensure that he understands it and clear up any confusions or misunderstandings. This corrective action is usually sufficient to handle the first offense.
If the staff member commits a second offense involving the same issue, the office manager or practice owner should review the situation with the staff member and have him sign a copy of the policy or procedure that covers what was violated, as an attestation that he understands it and agrees to abide by it. We then recommend that you put a copy of the signed document in the staff member’s personnel file and give him a copy to put in his staff binder. One may consider that this constitutes a warning.
If the staff member commits a third offense of the same kind, we recommend that you do the following:
- Issue a written warning and place a copy of it in his personnel file.
- Sit down and discuss the situation with him.
- Remind him of the fact that you have corrected him on the same infraction twice before.
- Tell him that, per office policy, continued violations could result in suspension or dismissal.
Practice owners usually find that this type of action on a third offense puts a stop to the problem. If it doesn’t, at least it points out clearly to the owner that he has a real “problem staff member” on his hands and that proper actions, including thorough documentation, will need to be taken in order to suspend or dismiss the staff member who continues to violate written company policy or procedure.
What do you do with a staff member whom you’ve corrected three times and who messes up again? You’ve already given him a written warning and discussed the fact that continued violations could result in suspension or dismissal; but you find that he repeatedly violates company policy.
At this point you should check his production record (though you already should have done that when you observed previous infractions). Hopefully, you have a simple statistical method to keep track of key production metrics for each staff member, and the office as a whole, so that you can monitor both individual and group productivity. If the person is an excellent producer (which is unlikely, given that he keeps messing up), you might consider, as your next step, suspension without pay for an appropriate number of days. If the person has a poor production record, dismissal might be in order.
Again, the importance of having proper office policies and job descriptions in place in order to properly deal with staff cannot be overemphasized. You could easily find yourself in a legal quagmire if you attempt to discipline staff without having them in place.
We also strongly recommend that you check with a good employment attorney when you are considering the dismissal of any problem employee, to ensure that all of your legal bases are covered.