How should I address a performance issue without the employee filing a grievance?
If an employee is performing below management's expectations despite being told previously they were doing a great job, letting them go may result in a grievance being raised against the company.
Assuming that the employee is officially out of their probation period this could turn into an awkward situation if not handled correctly. If it's not too late, best practice and common courtesy would be to have a quiet word informally with the individual concerned to let them know that their performance is not up to scratch. If it's too late for this, then it may be worth contacting the HR department immediately to start a formal disciplinary procedure. In line with the Acas code of conduct, it is only fair to the individual that their poor performance issues are dealt with promptly. They must be informed in writing that they have entered a performance review period and, at the initial meeting, explained why it is considered that they are not meeting the required standards. Remember to also allow the employee to exercise their right to have representation at the meeting, with either a colleague or a union representative.
Before you do start formal proceedings, make sure that you are familiar with your company's standard disciplinary procedure and that you have received the necessary training and guidance from HR, who should be with you at the meetings. Also, check whether or not there is a separate procedure for misconduct and capability. As the individual's manager, it is important for you at this point to provide good support for the individual throughout what will no doubt be a stressful process, as well as showing that you are consistently following the procedure.
Another part of your role in treating the individual fairly is for you to carry out some investigation into the poor performance in order to establish facts and then provide examples to the individual, giving them an opportunity to explain their side of things. You may find if they are new that there is some lack of role clarity and that they are unclear about the expectations or standards required of them. It may also be that they have not received the appropriate training to orientate them into the role. Use this initial meeting to clarify such issues and highlight any other circumstances that may be contributing to the poor performance, such as an unreasonable workload, team dynamics or even external pressures, to ensure that all parties have a shared understanding. It is also essential that the corrective action and milestones should be identified and agreed collaboratively between you and the employee and then documented in writing.
At this initial meeting, agree the review period with the individual and arrange regular meetings to monitor the action plan, providing the opportunity for the plan to be modified and additional support given to the employee if required.
As you can see from the above, a properly implemented disciplinary procedure can take time and hopefully will give the employee the chance to turn things around. To avoid disappointment, you may wish to quietly remind your own manager of this and also politely suggest that they don't speak without thinking in the future!
For further information check the Acas code of conduct and the CIPD factsheet on discipline and grievances at work for up to date information.
Deborah Roberts is an independent Learning and Development Consultant and also works as an associate for Kimball Consulting, an international HRD firm specialising in working across cultural boundaries.