Six common HR problems and how to solve them

A manager has a meeting with an employee to resolve an HR issue

People management can be challenging for small firms that don't have a dedicated HR department. Here's how to tackle some common personnel issues

1. One of my employees is frequently late

Employee lateness is irritating and it can affect both morale and productivity. It's important to be clear and consistent in how your business treats lateness. The best approach is to include a policy for it in your contracts of employment. It's also good practice to make staff tell you if they're running late, whether that's by phone, text or email.

Always keep a record of lateness so you can spot when it happens too often. When it becomes a habit, have an informal chat with the member of staff to find out what the problem is. If they're having difficulty arranging childcare, for example, you could offer flexible working. If it keeps happening, you'll need to have a formal meeting. Listen to their side of the story, take notes and explain your views. You may want to explain how lateness is unprofessional, affects team morale, harms productivity and impacts others. If your employee's punctuality doesn’t improve, the next steps are a verbal warning, a written warning, a final warning and - if necessary - dismissal for misconduct.

2. One of my employees keeps posting pictures of their drunken nights out on social media.

While you can ask staff not to post anything on social media while they're at work, it's not so simple when it comes to posts published in their own time - even if you think it makes them look unprofessional. What can you do? A quiet word can often be enough to show your employee the error of their ways. But it's also important to have a formal social media policy to guide employees and protect your business against potential liability. This document should ask employees not to:

  • Reveal confidential information about the company on social media;
  • Upload photographs of themselves or other employees at work or wearing a work uniform;
  • Make defamatory comments about the company;
  • Express personal opinions about the company;
  • Say anything that could be seen as bullying or harassment.

You should also set out the consequences of any social media policy breach, and the likelihood of disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. Download a sample social media policy and use it as the basis for your own policy.

3. My employee has asked for a pay rise

A request for a pay rise can catch you off-guard but resist the urge to say "no" straight away. A valued member of staff could jump ship if you dismiss their request without proper consideration. The first step is to understand your employee's motivation for asking for a pay rise. It's easy to justify a pay rise or bonus when your employee performs well in their role. Holding regular appraisals and reviews with your staff lets you know who is meeting their objectives and who isn't. It also means that conversations around pay increases can be framed around performance.

Take a look at salaries across the board to make sure they're fair and consistent. Be aware that one employee's request could trigger more from other staff. You'll need to make sure you can justify your decision if you say no to other employees who come knocking on your door. It's fine to explain your decision in person but make sure you send your employee a letter to confirm your decision. If you said "no" you might want to review their salary in six months. If it's a "yes", tell them how much their new salary will be and when it starts.

4. I've found out that one of my employees lied on their CV

It is not unheard of for job candidates to exaggerate parts of their CV to gain a competitive edge, adding qualifications or experience they don't actually have. So, what do you do if you hire someone and find out they have 'bent the truth'? There are no hard and fast rules, much will depend on how big the lie was. Does it have the potential to cause a serious impact on your business? How quickly did you discovered the lie? If the employee has been in post for a while and is performing well, does it matter if their grades are not quite as good as they have made out? It's probably OK to look past details that stretch the truth a little, but if the candidate has never worked at a company listed on their CV or attended the university claimed, this is a serious breach of trust and you'd be well within your rights to dismiss them.

Lying about qualifications is especially serious in some industries as is concealing certain criminal convictions or a ban on working in some specified roles or positions. Such lies could put colleagues, customers and the general public in danger. Even if health and safety isn't an issue, a dishonest employee could damage the reputation of your company. The best way to avoid this kind of problem is to carry out a thorough check on a candidate's qualifications before you hire them and carry out any required criminal record checks. Ask for copies of certificates and get contact details of previous employers. Make all your job offers conditional on receiving satisfactory references and getting a green light from your background checks.

5. One of my employees has been off sick for a while. Can I contact them?

Many employers shy away from contacting staff when they're off sick but keeping in touch is an essential part of managing absence. There is, of course, a fine line between making contact and badgering staff. Most sickness absence policies will state that contact will only be made by employers to review the progress of the employee's recovery.

Issues which can be discussed are: how they're currently feeling; whether they're taking any measures to get better, such as medication; whether they are seeing an improvement in their health and whether any reasonable adjustments can be made to their job role which will allow them to return to work.

Sensitive, positive contact during sick leave can smooth the way for the employee returning to work on a permanent basis. Failing to communicate with the employee during their absence could leave them feeling isolated and make them more apprehensive about their return.

6. One of my employees has asked to work flexible hours

Employees with 26 weeks' service have the statutory right to request flexible working. While this provision used to be aimed at working parents and carers, now any employee can bring any reason to the table when asking for a change to their working hours. It is possible for an employer to refuse a flexible working request but the reason for refusal must be based on the requirements of the business and not related to the reasons given by the employee. The grounds on which a request can be refused are prescribed by law and they include:

  • the burden of additional costs to the business;
  • being unable to reorganise work among existing staff;
  • it would have a negative impact on quality, performance or the ability to meet customer demand.

Don't be tempted to use one of these as an excuse unless it is absolutely true; the employee can make a claim to an employment tribunal if they dispute the reason you've given. With any requests for flexible hours, meet with your employee, consider the request and then inform them of the decision in writing.

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