Employees are like weeds. They’re usually “green” when I hire them, and unless they’ve worked at another plant, they think they can make up their own rules. When one staffer gets away with breaking a rule, others wonder why they shouldn’t do the same thing. My role? To make sure that the crabgrass doesn’t spread to the rest of the lawn.
I believe in giving employees a second, third or fourth chance when necessary. Hiring is always a risk, and determining whether or not a person is a good fit in less than 30 days is difficult. I occasionally hire a hopeless case who must be fired quickly. There’s no second chance when money is missing.
In Illinois, if an employer fires a worker in less than 30 days, it isn't responsible for unemployment compensation. We tell all new hires that they’re on a 30-day trial to protect the company. While the trial clock ticks, comprehension of the required tasks, teamwork and attitude are the major factors in determining whether the employee will work out in the long term.
My first rule is to be on time, but if production doesn’t depend on the employee’s prompt arrival, there is some flexibility. On the other hand, route drivers need to be prompt to keep our same-day and 24-hour customers happy. If an employee is repeatedly tardy and offers only generic excuses, they get one last chance before 30 days are up.
The time it takes to comprehend a task varies. Certain tasks are more difficult to learn — especially if it’s the person’s first time in the industry. Giving a person time to grow into the job may mean starting them part-time.
A bad attitude is hard to detect in just 30 days. When an “attitude adjustment” is necessary, I discuss it with the employee in private. Saving the person’s job is a priority — the local paper charges almost $400 to run a help-wanted ad for six days, and we want to avoid that cost if possible. Teamwork also takes time to develop.
We recently had a male route driver who had been with us almost 10 months when I noticed an attitude problem develop. He could handle his job, but his mood swings were worrisome. Word got around that he had gambling and substance-abuse problems. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t confirm this, but I am the boss, and had to deal with it.
Tension between him and the other two men in his team was high. I spoke to him about the problem, and he promised to straighten things out. His attitude continued to deteriorate, however, and I decided it was time to relieve him of his duties. How would we avoid paying unemployment?
Thinking that a driving issue could shore up our argument against him, we asked our insurance carrier to run an investigation, but privacy laws prevented it. Perhaps the laws have changed — several years ago, another carrier told us that my nephew couldn’t drive our vans because he had speeding tickets on his record.
We decided to lay the groundwork for dismissal using a zero-tolerance drug policy stating that the company provides a drug- and alcohol-free environment for all personnel. Our company policy already included random drug testing, but a zero-tolerance program clears us of having to pay for drug-rehabilitation costs.
The program is simple. Testing can be performed pre-employment, randomly during employment, after an accident, or with “reasonable suspicion or cause.” All we have to do it is give an employee a form and send them to an accredited drug-testing facility. The firm collects a urine sample and tests it at their laboratory.
We reissued employee manuals to the drivers and informed them that they would soon be subject to a substance-abuse test. When the problem employee returned from a vacation, the legal groundwork was set. I posted a notice that drug testing would begin soon, and he resigned by the end of the day.
The zero-tolerance, drug-free workplace program proved to be a great addition to our company policy. We now have another tool to weed out the bad seeds.