How Should You Correct a Problem Employee?

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problem employee

It’s the part of our jobs every small business owner hates – dealing with a problem employee.

Whatever the reason, whether you dislike confrontation or worry about getting sued, you can’t ignore employee problems, or they will just get bigger and potentially threaten your entire business. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your business legally, while also correcting a problem employee’s poor behavior.

The moment you hire your first employee, you need to create a written employee policy that documents your rules and expectations for the workplace. It should also state what actions (such as theft) would be grounds for dismissal. Have all employees read and sign a copy.

Successfully Correcting a Problem Employee

When a problem does arise, start by getting the facts. Talk to other employees to see what’s going on and document the issues as objectively as possible.

Then it’s time to talk to the person. To stay on the right side of the law when it comes to discipline, you should have a progressive discipline policy that gives employees opportunities to correct their behaviors. Start with a discussion of the issue and a verbal warning, and set a date by which the behavior needs to be corrected.

The goal is to work out problems and hopefully keep the employee on board. Work with him or her to create a plan for how to improve. Getting the employee’s input makes him or her more invested in the outcome.

If the behavior still doesn’t improve, escalate your discipline to a written warning, which documents the problem and its duration, specifies how long the employee has to correct the problem and details what will happen if it’s still not fixed. You and the employee should both sign this.

Depending on your employee policies, how severe the issue is and whether the employee is really trying to improve or not, you may do multiple written warnings before (in the worst case) terminating an employee. However, by implementing progressive discipline early and correctly, hopefully you never come to that point.

If you have any doubts or questions about discipline and termination, be sure to consult with an attorney who is familiar with your state’s employment laws.

Disciplining Photo via Shutterstock


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

8 Reactions
  1. Getting the facts is definitely the first, most important step, but we should all be prepared to be able to let that employee go if the problems continue. Tardiness is the one thing that I cannot easily let slide.

    • Wow. Tardiness is a minor issue for us. When one has a problem, it is hard to get to talk to them because of our culture. We don’t want to offend them. But then this article has helped me find some ways to correct the employee without offending him or her.

  2. Rieva,

    For me, “correcting” is resource-consuming, not mentioning the potential to bring the whole business down the drain. Well, at least that’s what happened in my business several years ago.

    Warnings are fine, but sometimes, bad employees are just, well, bad. It’s all about the mindset. Unless they are top performers who are worth-correcting, I think having them around in your office premise is counter-productive.

    • I agree. Correcting is somewhat similar to wishing someone would act differently with some begging. Of course, this does not work. If they have some issues, they have to sort that out for themselves.

  3. Working with small businesses in Atlantic Canada, we see this issue all too often. A point to note is that it is often more economical (in terms of $ and time) to correct a problem through coaching and discipline than to dismiss an employee.

  4. Reanne @ Monitance

    Correcting problems constructively can make for a healthy team and working environment and also help to effectively eliminate weak links