Legal guide: Dealing with difficult staff behaviour

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Pub bosses often have lengthy to-do lists each day, covering everything from basic manual tasks to advanced accountancy. But nothing is more important than tackling unwanted employee behaviour.

Remembering the old adage that culture eats strategy for breakfast, Preema Alvarez, solicitor at Gordon Dadds, advises how to deal with the following classic scenarios.

Excessive drinking on duty

Sharing a drink with customers may be appropriate in certain venues – but employers should ensure they have a carefully drafted policy in place.

For example, it may be acceptable for an employee to accept a drink from a customer. However, there should be a limited number per shift.

Where drinking during working hours is not appropriate, or excessive drinking takes place, the employer would be entitled to use the disciplinary process.

Following an investigation and disciplinary hearing, if it is found that the employee drank during working hours, or had drunk excessively during and/or after a shift and subsequently risked damaging the reputation of the employer, this could constitute gross misconduct and the employer might be entitled to dismiss the employee without notice.

Always texting and ignoring customers

This should initially be dealt with informally.

If a customer complaint has been made, a manager should explain this to the employee and make it clear that if the behaviour is repeated, disciplinary action may be taken.

If an employee has over two years’ service, a full disciplinary procedure must be followed for any such action. This includes a proper investigation and the employee having the opportunity to attend a disciplinary hearing.

Even for employees who’ve been with the company for less than two years, we recommend following this process.

Consequences could start with a formal, written warning, then – if the behaviour continues – a final written warning before ultimately dismissal.

Again, a short policy would be helpful here to avoid any misunderstandings. This should set out clearly whether mobile phones are permitted in the bar area, or if they should remain in lockers or break rooms during shifts.

If there is clear policy, communicated to employees from day one, this type of behaviour can be easily avoided.

Shirking undesirable duties such as toilet cleaning

There should be a fair division of these responsibilities. A duty manager should ensure there is a rota in place so the same employees are not doing the undesirable duties all the time.

It is also useful to ensure all employees are aware of the nature of the role from the outset of their employment. Ask candidates if they would be willing to undertake these duties and take note of their responses.

Where employees refuse to do these types of duties, it would be reasonable for an employer to deal with insubordination under the disciplinary procedure as described above.

Wearing inappropriate clothing for work

It is highly recommended that all employers have a dress code policy. Particularly where there is no strict uniform, it is helpful to provide employees with guidelines as to what they can and cannot wear during their shift.

There should also be guidance about what steps the employer may take if an employee comes to work in inappropriate clothing. For example, will they be sent home, and if so, will they be paid?

Any dress code policy should also address presentation and cleanliness, which are both important in the hospitality industry.

Stealing from the company

Any form of stealing should be dealt with under the disciplinary process.

The employer will need to carry out a thorough investigation. It may wish to consider various sources of evidence – for example, CCTV footage; circumstantial evidence; a statement from a member of staff or customer who saw a theft take place.

If the employer considers there are grounds for disciplinary action, it should write to the employee inviting them to attend a disciplinary hearing. This letter should set out the basis for the allegations and the potential range of consequences.

Any evidence gathered should be made available to the employee to review at the hearing, and the employee should be permitted to provide evidence to defend their position.

If, on balance, the employer believes the employee has stolen money or stock, after an investigation and hearing, it is likely to be within the range of reasonable responses for the employer to dismiss the employee for gross misconduct and without notice.

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