Having an affair with a client was against the values at my company, and I wanted no part of it.
The associate I terminated violated company policy and caused disturbances among other associates. The lower productivity of this associate during the affair was evident: This person did not show up to work on certain days and spent an exorbitant amount of time on the phone with the client.
At first, I tried to counsel this associate to stop the affair. I remained objective in my counsel, and started corrective action right away. I also asked the associate about how to change the situation.
My goal for corrective action was to solve the problem with the associate, not to terminate the associate. This associate had the right to be presumed innocent until reasonable proof of the offense was substantiated, and to be heard and disciplined reasonably in relation to the offense. Therefore, I took into consideration the following mitigating circumstances when applying discipline:
- - How severe is the problem?
- - Have there been other discipline problems?
- - Is the problem part of a continuing pattern of discipline infractions?
- - How long has the associate worked for my company?
- - What has been the quality of performance?
- - To what extent has the associate been previously warned about the offense?
- - How have similar infractions been dealt with in my company?
- - Will I have reasonable evidence to justify my discipline?
To help me keep the means of discipline “educational” and to minimize the likelihood of discipline decisions escalating into premature termination or even a discrimination suit, I asked myself these questions during my investigation:
- - Have I clearly identified the problem behavior?
- - Does the associate have knowledge of job expectations?
- - Does the behavior of the associate violate a policy?
- - Was this policy communicated to the associate?
- - Is this policy in writing?
- - Does the corrective action fit the infraction?
- - Do I have documentation indicating that this problem has been discussed with the associate previously?
- - Has the associate been warned of the corrective action that will be taken if the problem behavior continues?
I used a calm and serious tone with my associate during each discipline session, remaining professional and dispassionate. I defined the problem behavior and explained why and how an affair with a client is against company policy. I used facts to support my statements, and I made sure my investigation was complete prior to each session.
I asked for my associate’s input to work together on a corrective action plan. Together, we identified expected improvement steps to get the associate to stop the affair. I asked the associate, “What will you do in terms of behavior to convince me you have followed through on the corrective action plan?”
We set a reasonable timeframe for corrective action. I explained that failure to correct the problem behavior would result in further disciplinary action. Unfortunately, the affair continued, and I terminated the associate. I stayed calm, made no threats, and did not scold or joke. I avoided personal criticism, and stayed focused on the work-related aspects of the affair.
I made the termination statement clear and concise, and I wished my associate “future success and positive outcomes” as my final comment. After the termination, by myself, I cried because I liked my associate.
This article was originally published by the Association for Talent Devlopment Friday, December 16, 2016. I can be found here.