Acting Up

How to handle employees' bad behavior.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the June 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Employee misconduct takes a variety of forms, including harassment, theft, drug use, threats and violent behavior. When you become aware of actual or suspected employee misconduct, act quickly--but carefully--to resolve the situation, says Michael P. O'Brien, a labor and employment attorney with law firm Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough in Salt Lake City. "Treat the complaint as valid until it is established otherwise, and treat the accused as innocent until proven guilty," O'Brien advises. "Also, treat the matter confidentially to the greatest extent possible."

The first step is to conduct a thorough investigation. O'Brien recommends the investigation be handled by someone who is removed enough from the situation to be objective. Your attorney can provide any needed legal guidance.

The investigative process should include a review of all relevant documents, such as personnel files, time sheets and performance reviews, and any applicable financial records. You may also want to interview witnesses, victims and others who may have knowledge of the situation and the accused.

If your investigation confirms misconduct, take immediate and appropriate disciplinary action that is consistent with your policies. When the misconduct includes breaking a law, you must decide whether or not to involve law enforcement. In a theft or drug situation, weigh the potential for negative publicity against the potential good (which could include restitution and the fact that the perpetrator may receive rehabilitation). If the case involves threats or physical violence, O'Brien says the police should always be notified; otherwise, you risk being held liable if the behavior is repeated or escalates.

Contact Sources

Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough, 1500 Wells Fargo Plaza, 170 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, UT 84101,

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