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Giving Employees a Second Chance

In his article “Hire Slow, Fire Fast” on, Patrick Hull tells readers that, “If a person that you hire is not working out, don’t hesitate to move on quickly…I know many businesses that took time to try and change someone. I haven’t seen it be successful. People don’t change.” I disagree.

As an HR consultant, I have coached a number of clients’ employees who needed to change their behavior in order to remain employed. Some were able to do it and some weren’t, but giving people an opportunity to improve is important for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that people usually are oblivious that their behavior is a problem. Why? Mostly because we don’t see ourselves as other people see us. For example, we might think that we’re confident and assertive while others think that we’re a blow-hard. We might think that we’re fun and charismatic while others think that we’re inappropriate. People are also oblivious that their behavior is a problem because others don’t tell them that it is. Employees need to have honest feedback about how their behavior affects the workplace in order to improve. It’s amazing what can happen when someone is told specifically what he or she is doing (or not doing) that is problematic.

For example, many years ago a manager told me that he refused to promote an employee into a supervisory position because the employee acted strangely. Despite the fact that the employee had applied for a promotion numerous times, the manager never told him why he wasn’t being promoted. I encouraged the manager to tell the employee about the specific behavior that he was exhibiting that was holding him back. A couple of months later, the manager told me that he wanted to promote the employee. With specific feedback and guidance, the employee was able to change the problematic behavior. The employee benefitted because he got the promotion he desired and the manager benefitted because the employee now behaved in an appropriate manner.

The second reason to give employees an opportunity and the tools to improve is, frankly, because it makes employers look better if they have to defend a termination. Firing employees too fast is one of the top ten things employers do to get sued, according to the article “Hostile Work Environment – 10 Things Bully Bosses do to Cause Lawsuits” on The author, a defense attorney, says that, “employers who take a long time to try to improve a negative situation with an employee, and who can show gradually increasing discipline over that time period are the ones who will look better in court. Juries like it when it looks like the employer went well beyond the minimum legal requirements and tried everything possible to ‘save’ the employer-employee relationship, but despite the boss’s training and coaching the employee just refused to do the work.”

Obviously, I’m in favor of giving employees a chance to learn new behaviors to improve their performance. However, I’m not in favor of giving employees too many chances. Doing so doesn’t inspire employees to be accountable and it can backfire on employers.

An excellent example of such backfiring is an unemployment hearing that was documented in the article “Should Employees Be Given Second Chances?” on Author Tashwanda Pinchback says that, despite committing numerous infractions (stealing time, excessive tardiness, and being rude during a counseling session), an employee was offered a different work shift instead of being fired. The employee declined and was subsequently terminated. At the unemployment hearing, the employee said he was fired for not accepting the position. In the employer’s defense, the manager presented the list of the numerous infractions the employee had committed, to which the hearing officer asked:
• If you have documented evidence that he was stealing time, why didn’t you terminate him then?
• If arriving to work on time is an essential function of his position, why did you wait until he was tardy 42 times before terminating him?
• If he was unprofessional during a counseling session, had already stolen time, and demonstrated a pattern of excessive tardiness, why didn’t you terminate him at that point?
• And why after all of the aforementioned issues with his job performance did you offer him another position within the company?

The employee did not get unemployment benefits; however, this example demonstrates that courts could become suspect of an employer’s motive to terminate when the employer allows an employee to repeatedly behave inappropriately without consequences.

Something else that causes suspicion is a lack of documentation. If you are giving employees more chances, be very diligent about documenting the performance issues or the delay in termination will generally backfire too.

My advice to employers is to give wayward employees the opportunity and tools to improve. If they can’t turn their behavior around in a reasonable time period, then guide them toward the door.

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Disclaimer: The information and resources provided herein are not a substitute for experienced legal counsel and does not constitute legal advice or attempt to address the numerous factual issues that inevitably arise in any employment-related dispute. Although this information attempts to cover some major recent developments, it is not all-inclusive, and any recommendations are based upon HR best practices and procedures. We recommend you consult an attorney for legal guidance.

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