October.  The month of pumpkins, witches, ghosts and ghouls.  Halloween seems to be getting bigger and bigger every year in the UK.  If you hate it, and the idea of answering the door to multiple kids all scrambling to add one more packet of sweets to their already overflowing bag, one way to avoid the horror that is Halloween is to stay late at work.

But what if there’s stuff going on at work that would make for a good horror story too?  Let’s face it, some of the situations that you’re faced with when you manage people can be pretty scary, can’t they?  Well, if you have the right processes in place and you follow them, you can survive those HR horrors and come out the other side relatively unscathed.

Let’s have a look at some typical HR nightmares and how to handle them:

  1. Claims of foul-play during the recruitment process: Did you know that potential job applicants have the right not to be discriminated against from the point that a job is advertised? The grounds on which it’s unlawful to discriminate (treat unfairly) against people are called ‘protected characteristics’.  There are nine – Sex, Race, Disability, Age, Sexual Orientation, Religion, Gender Reassignment, Pregnancy and Maternity, Marriage and Civil Partnership.  So, if a job applicant believes that they were treated unfairly during the recruitment process and that this unfair treatment was based on them possessing certain characteristics, they may make a claim of discrimination.Of course, there’s no sure-fire way of preventing claims of discrimination, but there is plenty that you can do to avoid them.  There’s also lots that you can do if you are challenged, so that you’re in the best possible position to demonstrate that you’ve followed a fair process:
  • Avoid including anything in your job adverts or job descriptions that could be viewed as discriminatory (i.e. make no mention of age, sex etc.).
  • Follow a clear, measurable selection process. Have a scored shortlisting process that enables you to demonstrate why an individual is not taken forward to interview stage etc.
  • Prepare a framework of interview questions (and stick to them) with answers that can be scored.
  • Ask each candidate the same questions.
  • Never interview alone.
  • Always keep a record of any interview scoring sheets and notes that you have made. Don’t record subjective comments on here.
  • Prepare the feedback that you will give to unsuccessful candidates and stick to it. That way you’re less likely to say the ‘wrong’ thing.
  1. Absent Without Leave (AWOL) Employees: Also high up there on the list of scary people management situations is what to do if an employee doesn’t turn up for work, doesn’t contact you to let you know where they are and doesn’t return any of your attempts to make contact. Well, the key (as with every other HR process) is to get your ducks in a row before the situation actually happens.
  • Set out your stall in your policies (Sickness, Time-Off etc.) around what process your employees should follow for taking time off work for whatever reason. This is your starting point for managing employees who go AWOL.
  • As well as having your Time Off policies in place, also have a clear process that you’ll follow if people don’t turn up for work. This should be linked to your Disciplinary policy.
  • Have a set of template letters that you can easily adapt to take you through the process of managing someone who’s AWOL.
  • Follow your AWOL process carefully, clearly outlining in writing to the individual concerned what your expectations are of them at each stage and what the potential consequence of them not meeting these expectations could be.
  • If they come back to work, complete a thorough investigation into why they were AWOL before determining whether to invite them to a disciplinary hearing or not.
  • If dismissal is a potential outcome of an AWOL situation, consider taking legal / HR advice throughout the disciplinary process to make sure that you’ve followed a fair one.
  1. Poor Performers: This is another situation that can put the frighteners on even the hardiest of managers, but, if you keep on top of the poor performance once you’ve identified it, the situation can be resolved relatively painlessly.
  • Make sure that you have job descriptions in place. As well as outlining what you expect from people applying for a job, they’re also the benchmark against which to measure the performance of the people in the job.
  • Have a performance management process and a HRMS that can accommodate SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) objectives which are regularly reviewed.
  • If someone’s not meeting the requirements of the job, meet with them to understand why. Are they unclear what’s expected of them?  Do they need further training? Is something personal affecting their work? Let them know that, if their performance doesn’t improve, you may take them down the route of performance managing them.
  • Have a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) template that you can use. This should make it really clear what the expected level of performance is, what the gap is (what they’re not doing), what exactly they should be doing and by when.  Make sure that you only include the key issues on here.  A PIP that’s as long as War and Peace is going to feel unachievable from the start.
  • The period of time that you set the PIP for depends on how long you need to see them do the tasks within their job (usually around 4 weeks).
  • If they fail the PIP, invite them to a disciplinary hearing (with an independent disciplinary panel), issue a disciplinary warning if appropriate and then, depending on the outcome of this, revert back to their manager to set the PIP again. If you follow this process, and the person’s performance continues to be below standard, you can work through from a first stage warning to dismissal within a fairly reasonable timeframe, whilst continuing to give the individual every opportunity to raise their game.