Running a small business demands high quality customer service and the creation of positive experiences. A positive experience can ensure repeat business, positive online reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations within your customer’s personal network.
So, what do you do when an employee in your business displays poor, or in some instances, totally unacceptable customer service? Have you had an employee who is rude or disrespectful to your customers? Can you fire them?
Although it isn't always easy to deal with difficult employees, there are certain steps you can follow to ensure you handle the situation diplomatically. Depending upon the severity and frequency of the rudeness, you may wish to terminate the employee. However, it is critical to remember when terminating an employee for serious misconduct, there are procedural steps that must be followed.
Evaluate the situation and the behaviour.
Consider the employee’s behaviour carefully. Was it a one-off incident or regular, repeated behaviour? Are there external factors that influenced the behaviour or aggravated the situation? If it’s only a single instance, think about the context surrounding the employee’s behaviour – how severe was the ‘rudeness’ and is it going to impact your business long term, or damage your business reputation? If yes, then this might be considered serious misconduct.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, serious misconduct is wilful or deliberate behaviour by an employee that is inconsistent with the continuation of the contract of employment; and conduct that causes serious and imminent risk to the health or safety of a person; or the reputation, viability or profitability of the employer's business.
Serious misconduct can include:
- assault (verbal or physical)
- being drunk at work or under the influence of illicit drugs
- safety violations (to customers or co-workers)
- bullying or harassment
- the employee refusing to carry out lawful and reasonable instructions that are consistent with the employee’s contract of employment
While it can be tempting to immediately end an employee’s employment following an instance of ‘rudeness’ it’s important to validate the behaviour as serious misconduct, and handle the situation appropriately. You can download this free guide on employee performance and termination.
You should warn your employee in writing at least once before ending their employment. This written notice should be detailed and include specific information around the reasons for their dismissal and description of their repeated misconduct.This is especially the case with cases of poor customer service or rudeness, where the behaviour may be less clear cut. If you’re not sure what the next step should be, contact an employment expert such as Employsure before speaking with the employee to avoid a costly unfair dismissal claim.
If the rude behaviour is not severe enough to warrant serious misconduct, the next step might be to look at the ways the employee’s behaviour can be managed moving forward, to prevent it from reoccurring.
You might consider giving the employee a warning, or even a final warning, to avoid the behaviour recurring. These warnings pave the way for a future termination if the behaviour continues and you do choose to terminate the employee.
However, it’s important to recognise that sometimes rude behaviour by staff can be a symptom of serious underlying problems that may exist in your business. If you suspect this to be the case, it may be useful to consider a few common causes and think about how you might improve in these areas using some of these strategies:
Lack of Training: If there is no ongoing customer service training, implement a training plan and explain the workplace policies.
Low Staff Morale: Create an environment of open communication within your team and make sure there are opportunities to foster constructive feedback. Encourage your staff to voice their concerns before things escalate.
Inconsistent/Unclear Expectations: Performance management plans are a fantastic way to track, measure and document employee performance and behaviour. Personalised plans set clear expectations, goals and identify gaps in the employee’s skills and areas for improvement.
Stress: Identify stressful situations employees may be experiencing inside or outside the workplace that could be impacting their performance and mental health during work hours. Check in with your staff outside formal meetings by asking if they’re are okay or if there is something you can do to help improve their ability to work or interact with customers.
These strategies are a fantastic way of managing ‘rude’ employees – a proactive approach is always best.
If, after assessing the employee’s behaviour, the rudeness is severe enough or the employee has displayed serious misconduct, Employsure Advisers can provide the necessary guidance in managing a termination process and help avoid a messy unfair dismissal claim. They can also help implement policies for future employees to follow, tailored for your business.
Employsure hosts free local seminars for small and medium sized businesses to learn how to manage difficult employees in-line with your Fair Work obligations including employee policies and the correct process for termination.