...and now you can rid yourself of those troublesome employees

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The Independent Online
Are you an employer who is plagued by staff with the "wrong attitude"? Like the people who are disrespectful behind your back? And the chatterboxes, who distract you from your work; the complainers, for whom nothing is ever right; and the snoopers who seem to know everything about their colleagues' private lives?

Well, you don't have to put up with them. As an American management expert explained to 150 UK managers on Friday, they can be fired. No manager has to tolerate any attitudes he or she dislikes, explained Nancy Campbell. You may, she said, have employees who are brilliant at what they do but you hate working with them. "They are the miserable human beings. Yes, you can dismiss them." Ms Campbell was speaking at a day-long seminar entitled "How to Legally Dismiss Staff with Behavioural Problems". It was designed to give managers "the powerful skills they need to confidently weed out employees with unsatisfactory attitudes, sidestep dismissal problems and avoid claims".

The seminar was organised by Padgett-Thompson, which describes itself as "the leading international business trainer", at a cost of pounds 140 for each manager. This would have given an income of pounds 21,000. The outlay was less than pounds 4,000 on a dingy and windowless basement room, plus coffee, in Heathrow Airport's Excelsior Hotel.

As well as company personnel managers, those attending included the headmaster of a grant-maintained school, who faces trimming his staff "unless we can get a bigger market share of local pupils", and executives of NHS trusts.

Many clearly had "miserable human beings" in line for the chop. One said: "He refuses to wear a suit. He's a senior professional but says he doesn't need to because he doesn't meet clients. He does it deliberately to wind me up." Another was troubled by a woman who is always complaining about management decisions. "The criticism seems minor but it's constant." A third wanted to be rid of a secretary who cried when criticised.

Ms Campbell, a smile nailed and lipsticked onto her sharp features, said: "It is not true that you cannot dismiss employees for attitude. You can. But you must not put it that way."

Never soften the blow by making them redundant, with a cushion of redundancy money, she said. That way you might encourage other employees to develop bad attitudes.

You must build a case that will stand up at an industrial tribunal. And the key to that is "the three Ds - Document, Document and Document." Write everything down - and never throw anything away. When you tell someone off, you should get your employee to sign a note to say that the ticking off has happened, and what was said. If he refuses, you should say: 'Okay, just write on the back that you don't want to sign it, and why.' "And they do it," said Ms Campbell in triumph.

"The only time it's failed me in 20 years was a woman who knew the system. She said I was trying to build a file to fire her. So when she left my office, I wrote her a memo of the discussion and I wrote: 'If this is your understanding, initial the memo and return it. Otherwise we will arrange another meeting.' She initialled the memo!"

A dismissal interview should last from two to five minutes. "This is not a time for dialogue. You say, 'Your employment is terminated. Here are the papers you need to sign.' Don't give them a chance to argue, or beg."

Have a box of tissues ready, because some people burst into tears. But do not allow their tears to postpone the interview. Say: "Take a moment to compose yourself and then we will continue." Have their property collected during the interview; as soon as it is over, escort them off the premises.

You can even get rid of people for being ill. Ms Campbell quoted a case of a man who had a heart attack and whose doctor thought he would never be back to full efficiency. His company fired him - and he lost his challenge at an industrial tribunal. "There is no law that requires you to employ someone who cannot do the job."

But there are times when it is "legally smarter" not to dismiss troublemakers, said Ms Campbell. These are when the dismissal is solely on account of race, sex, marital status, or trade union membership. And "the moment she turns up pregnant you're in trouble".

The managers listened attentively. The British, however, are still a bit furtive about firing people. "How many of you," asked Ms Campbell, "told your staff what you're doing today?" Three hands went up.

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