How to Deal with Difficult Employees


As a government supervisor, you are a lightning rod for Inspector General (IG), Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and sexual harassment complaints. Difficult employees – and I hope you don’t have any – can turn false complaints into a shield to protect themselves from correction, disciplinary action and termination if you don’t know what to do.

It is human nature to take a false complaint against you personally and to react. This is exactly what the complainant wants you to do. Every employee has the right to file a complaint with their supervisor chain, their legislative representative or the IG. If you take negative action against them after the complaint is filed, they can then file a Whistle Blower Reprisal Act (WBRA) complaint which is handled by the IG. A WBRA can be worse than the original complaint.

If you have a difficult employee – run, don’t walk – to your Human Resources and legal departments and explain the situation. They will advise you to make sure your counseling statements, letters of reprimand and suspension without pay must stand on their merit. No corrective or disciplinary action can be tied back to the complaints against you or the organization. Treat the employee(s) that filed complaints the same as all the other employees while following the disciplinary process. If you think that is easy, try inviting the person that claims you discriminated against them to a Christmas party at your house.

My advice to you is when an employee yells or walks out of your office you need to make it a point to continue to talk in a conversational tone. Always have a third party such as another supervisor in the office with you when counseling a difficult employee or present them with a letter of reprimand, so there is a witness. Document every incident and get sworn statements from witnesses. Lastly always keep your boss informed of what is going on and follow the advice of Human Resources and your legal department.

In the end, some employees will turn around and became a valued member of the team. Others will choose to retire or find another job in a different organization. If done properly, correcting disruptive employees will improve morale across your section. With the support of upper management and advice from the experts, your section can became one of the best in the organization.

Stewart Fearon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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