Managing Difficult Employees
 Managing Difficult Employees

As an employer, you rely on your employees to help you run your business effectively. From time to time, those employees can present challenges such as missed work, an inability to meet deadlines, and failure to follow company policy. The following are a few examples of common problems found in the workplace along with tips on how to address them.

Issue #1: Arriving Late to Work:

Beyond the monetary costs associated with missed work, absenteeism and tardiness can also inconvenience customers and co-workers, slow productivity, and impact employee morale.


Susan has worked at the front desk of a medical office for many years. It is company policy to arrive on time for each scheduled shift, which is typically 30-minutes prior to the first patient appointment. Last week, Susan arrived 10-minutes late. In this particular instance she called her manager, Eileen, to let her know that she was stuck in traffic. This week, Susan was 15-minutes late but never called Eileen to let her know. Today, Susan arrived 25-minutes late, leaving a patient waiting outside because no one was at the office to greet her.

Addressing the issue:

Eileen plans to give Susan a verbal warning and schedules a meeting with her as soon as possible to discuss the issue. Eileen is prepared with documentation of Susan’s tardiness and lets Susan know that she is expected to arrive to work on time. During the meeting, Eileen reviews the company’s attendance policy and emphasizes the importance of arriving to work on time. As with all disciplinary meetings, Eileen documents the verbal warning and has Susan sign it to indicate her receipt and understanding.

Next steps:

If Susan continues to arrive late to work following the verbal warning, more formal disciplinary action may be needed, such as a written warning. The written warning should include a review of the previous discussion, outline the expectations that were made and specifically reference the instances in which Susan was late. Also, the warning should clearly state attendance expectations and remind Susan of the impacts to the business when she fails to make it to work on time. Eileen should make it clear to Susan that continued tardiness could lead to more serious forms of disciplinary action.

Issue #2: Failure to Meet Performance Expectations:

Performance management is an ongoing process aimed at setting clear performance goals and providing employees with the tools and resources needed to be successful. Even with this type of support, some employees may struggle to meet performance expectations. When this happens, the manager and employee should work together to openly discuss performance issues and collectively develop solutions for improvement.


Matt works for a marketing firm as an entry-level marketing assistant handling the creation of draft client presentations and managing the database for the company’s email blasts. Initially Matt’s manager, Rick, was impressed with his initiative and attention to detail. However, lately Matt’s performance has been slipping. Two weeks ago he was late submitting a key client presentation and this week, Rick found a critical error when Matt updated the client database.

Addressing the Issue:

Rick arranges a meeting with Matt as soon as possible. He knows a prompt response to poor performance is critical since it can quickly address minor issues before they become more problematic. To avoid putting Matt on the defensive, Rick starts the meeting with a positive review of Matt’s strengths to date. Then he covers the problem areas and the impact these issues have on the company and its clients. He also covers the steps that are expected of Matt in order to correct the problem. Rick ends the meeting on a positive note and confirms Matt’s understanding of the discussion and the goals that have been outlined. As with any meeting, Rick documents the discussion and has Matt sign the documentation.

Next steps:

Rick plans to meet with Matt in the coming weeks to ensure his performance remains on track. If Matt continues to fail to meet performance expectations, further action may need to be taken. Rick should also consider whether Matt needs additional training and if his performance expectations are appropriate. It is important to note that there may be times when an employee does not have the necessary skills or knowledge to succeed in a position. In these instances, it is a best practice to follow the progressive discipline process with clear documentation.

Issue #3: Social Media Use:

The rapid rise in social media use has prompted many employers to develop policies prohibiting employees from tarnishing the company’s reputation through social media postings and limiting the use of social media during work time. However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has scrutinized employers’ attempts to control the information that employees post to social media. Such attempts may not interfere with employees’ right to act together to improve wages and working conditions.


Jessica works for ABC Technical Systems as an administrative assistant, answering the phones, greeting clients, and drafting correspondence. One of the company’s sales reps came across a Tweet Jessica posted. In the post, Jessica made it clear she didn’t think one of the company’s products was valuable to its customers.

Addressing the issue:

Prior to taking any action, Bill, Jessica’s manager, sits down with the company’s human resources representative to discuss the issue. This is the first time the company has had to deal with something like this, so they decide it’s time to create a social media policy. When drafting the policy they want to be sure that it does not:

  • Discipline employees who use social media for “concerted” or “protected activity” as defined by Section 7 of the National Labor Relation Act (NLRA); and
  • Use overbroad prohibitions that could restrict the employees’ rights to discuss working conditions and wages.

Among other things, they find it prudent to address the following: inappropriate and unacceptable use of social media (while avoiding overbroad statements that could restrict employees from exercising their rights under the NLRA); a reminder that social media postings are public, and; a request that employees include disclaimers indicating that their views and opinions are those of the employee and not the company. They plan to have the policy reviewed by legal counsel and then train managers to ensure they understand how to properly enforce it.

Next Steps:

ABC Technical Systems distributes the new social media policy and asks all employees to sign it indicating their receipt and understanding. The company also holds a meeting with all employees to explain what is acceptable and unacceptable social media use and the importance of including appropriate disclaimers when posting information online.


Employers should consider what policies and procedures they have in place prior to addressing the issues covered above. It’s important that all policies and procedures are followed on a consistent basis. A comprehensive employee handbook is a great starting point for setting clear expectations. Employers should have all employees review and acknowledge the handbook upon hire.