Take action with a warning notice
Jan 01, 2006
Cometimes staff members perform poorly and you need to address a problem behavior. "Your goal," says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Roger Cummings, CVPM, a consultant with Brakke Consulting Inc. in Dallas, "is to document examples of the inappropriate behavior and present them to the employee. Doing so gives the employee an opportunity to improve his or her performance."
While such situations as theft or animal cruelty require immediate dismissal, most situations warrant warnings first. "Warnings show the gravity of the improper behavior, and they document that the employee's been fairly counseled," Cummings says.
When an employee doesn't deliver
Many managers find the "three strikes" method effective. Strike one, or the first instance of the problematic behavior, results in a private conversation regarding the infraction. After strike two, you'll give a written warning. Strike three calls for termination.
When you take any of these three steps, Cummings recommends putting detailed notes in the employee's file, so you can bring up those specifics and discipline in a constructive way. Then look for ways to help the employee improve. For example, could you offer continuing-education opportunities to help the employee develop better skills? Finally, document your agreed-upon strategy for improvement and a timeline for achieving it.
How to deliver a written warning
If the employee doesn't improve, you may need to prepare a written warning that details the performance or behavior problem and its impact on the practice. Also outline your expectations in relation to the problem; explain how you've previously addressed the issue; and list any actions you've taken to help correct the problem, such as coaching or disciplinary discussions. Attach any notes you've taken relating to the problem. Lastly, include the repercussions, such as discharge or time off without pay, if the action recurs.
Present the warning notice privately, and discuss it with the employee. Use statements that focus on the behavior, not on the person, says Cummings. For example, instead of, "You don't work well with fellow employees," say, "John fails to help co-workers when asked." Then give examples.
The warning notice should also include a section for the employee to record his or her response. Then you both should sign the notice to prove that you've gone over the warning together. If the employee refuses to sign, note that on his or her copy and on the one you file.
Even with your efforts to correct poor performance, you may need to fire an employee. If you do, at least you'll know that you've provided opportunities for the employee to improve and that you've documented this process—a critical step in protecting yourself should your employee seek legal action.