Problem Behavior At Workplace While Off-Duty

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about sex on the sidelines:

I have a member of staff who was acting inappropriately with her boyfriend in the workplace but she was not on duty at the time. It is a club where customers were present and saw it happen. People have asked that she be given a written warning but I’m not sure you can do this. Could you clarify the correct procedure please?

Signed, Concerned

Dear Concerned:

There are no hard and fast rules about warnings or other sanctions, since every situation is different. Some large companies have a progressive discipline program that moves from a verbal warning to a written warning before more serious sanctions or dismissal. However, there is always the option to jump the steps if the matter is very serious.

In smaller companies the manager or owners usually decide how they want to handle each case, based on circumstances.Ideally, warnings are a form of training in which employees learn, while still feeling that they can overcome the error and do well in the future. Unfortunately, many managers almost apologize for warning someone about a problem while others “chew the employee out” rather than having a useful conversation that allows for a good relationship in the future.

If problem behavior or an error in performance is minor, unintentional or it’s the first time or two it has happened, warning people before taking more serious action, and redirecting them to better behavior and performance, is the best way to treat people and to do business. Many younger (and not so young) employees are still learning how they should behave and how to work effectively, so the manager really does become a teacher through corrective and redirective conversations. It might help you to consider two questions:

1. Do you care if it happens again?

2. Has the employee had problems before that would indicate a corrective counseling interview would not be taken by her as a significant warning?

If the behavior was problematic enough that you don’t want it to ever happen again, the employee needs to be told what she did that was wrong and why it was wrong, then warned that if she does it again she could be dismissed. (In a small business that is usually the next step. In a large business with a progressive disciplinary policy the manager might say that the next step could be “more serious, from a written reprimand to dismissal” or a similar phrase.) Even if you think she realizes she was wrong, the warning interview about what could happen if it is repeated is appropriate. If you don’t think she agrees about the seriousness of the behavior a more formal written warning would be a good idea, to make the matter more serious in her mind.

The easiest way to conduct a corrective interview about a serious event is to start with a very basic statement rather than a long lecture.”Lisa, I was told you were seen kissing and touching Matt in plain view of club members at the front desk. You were off-duty, but on the job site. Tell me about that.”Or, if you’ve already talked to her about it, you might say,”Lisa, you and I have talked about the situation involving you and Matt, but that was more casual. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk to you more formally to make sure you understand how serious it was. What are your thoughts about it since the last time we talked?” Either way, it gets the pressure off you and lets her talk about it or give her side of the story or acknowledge her error. When she is done, unless her information gives you a completely different picture of what happened, you can make your statement and issue your warning,”You may have felt you weren’t representing the club because you were off-duty, but anything you do here reflects on the club. That’s why it was reported by members. So, I want to warn you to not do anything like that again and to keep in mind your role as an employee anytime you are in or around the club. If you shouldn’t do it while you are working, you shouldn’t do it while you’re on-site, at any time.”

Stop at that point and let her agree or not. She will probably give her view again, which is OK. Just repeat your message:”I hear what you’re saying and I’m glad to know you didn’t intend it to happen. But, I want to make sure that you are in agreement with me that you will never be involved in problem behavior on-site, whether you are on duty or off-duty, and that you understand that if you are, you could lose your job over it. You can say all of that in a more personal way if you are friends, or in a more formal way if that is the nature of your relationship.Then, after the interview, to document it you could follow with a very short email or written memo saying something like,”Lisa, I’m sending this as a way to document that we had a discussion today about the situation that occurred on November 28th involving you and Matt at the front desk. I told you then that actions of that nature could result in you losing your job here. I’m glad you agreed that your behavior in the club, whether on duty or off duty, must reflect positively on the club and all of us as a team. Your responses in our meeting made me certain that you will be careful in the future and use this as a positive learning experience. I’m looking forward to your continuing positive contributions in the future.Tom That approach would allow you to give a more personal, verbal warning, but would also allow you to tell others that you counseled with the employee and documented it in writing.If some aspect of this situation makes you think that merely talking to the employee is not enough, you could give her a more formal written warning. However, you still need to have the conversation mentioned above. The difference is that you would bring a written warning (which would have most of the words in the verbal warning) and after the conversation you would give it to her and ask her to sign that she received it. Then, you would give her a copy and keep a copy in her personnel folder.If you have already talked to her and she has agreed that it won’t happen again, but you decide to give her a written warning, you could do that now by sending her an email or giving her a memo similar to the one above.

The key to a warning, whether verbal or in writing, is that it should say what happened, why it was wrong and what action will be taken if it happens again. Often managers stop at emphasizing that something was wrong and getting an agreement not to do it again, but they don’t like to say what they will do if it does happen again. That is the warning part! The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, has good ideas for quick communications and you might find that useful.I hope this has been helpful to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how it works out. Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.