How would you handle these 3 employee relations dramas?

Chloe Hava


written on February 5, 2018

Sometimes employee or employer rights don’t always align with what’s reasonable. HRM looks at some recent employee relations issues, and requests your help to get to the bottom of them.

We recently spent some time lurking in Ask A Manager, a popular blog run by US-based management consultant Alison Green, to find out what HR-themed quandaries have been troubling employers and employees alike.

1. My employee acts like he’s the boss”

This complaint originated from a recently promoted new manager who beat out a colleague for the position, yet the rival doesn’t appear to have received the memo. While on the surface he appears to have gracefully accepted defeat, he has been encroaching on the new manager’s territory. For example, he assumes control in meetings with subordinates by sending out minutes and assigning action points to the team prior to approval.

The new manager wants to know how to address this issue with their colleague without coming off as aggressive.

Ask A Manager suggests nipping it in the bud right away by shutting down any interruptions in team meetings and addressing the intrusions by instructing the colleague to focus on his own work and leave the managerial duties alone.

2. “I found out my employee is job searching”

Except… not from the horse’s mouth. This manager heard from a loose-lipped former intern that one of their employees was actively hunting for a new position. While the manager concedes that said employee is not exactly a shoe in for the role, there are some functions she performs very well, and overall, it would be a loss to the team if she left.

Now, the manager would be ok with her moving on if that’s what she wants, and would happily provide a positive reference, but is unsure what to do in the interim. What if she takes a while to find a new job? Should the manager invest time and effort in trying to get them to improve on the weak points?

Ask A Manager says that unfortunately that is the kind of information you just have to sit on. The employee is entitled to privacy, and is perfectly allowed to shop around for options. While it would be nice to know what the employee plans to do, it’s not the managers business unless the employee makes it so.

3. “How much detail do you have to share when you call in sick”

This employee’s new manager has requested to know, in detail, why staff are calling in sick – whether it’s diarrhoea or depression. The employee does, in fact, suffer from clinical depression, and doesn’t feel comfortable to say they are using up legally entitled sick leave to take a mental health recovery day.

Ask A Manager points out that while it’s legally viable for an employer to know why staff are sick, it is not always reasonable. In Australia, the Fair Work Act says employees need to provide evidence that “would satisfy a reasonable person to substantiate the reasons for the leave”. However, the Fair Work Act also stipulates that this right should be exercised reasonably.

Before you get too worked up about absenteeism, refer to our recent article about the real cost of “sickies”.

HRM would love to know if you have recently dealt with any of the discussed issues, and how you went about addressing them. Please email us on HRM Editor if you would like to contribute a suggestion about how to handle any of these HR pickles.

Have an HR question? Access AHRI:ASSIST resources for HR guidelines, checklists and policy templates on different HR topics including workplace health and safety. Exclusive to AHRI members.

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8 thoughts on “How would you handle these 3 employee relations dramas?

  1. I believe knowing why an employee is sick, particularly for long term absences, can be very important for any future positive actions the organisation might take in trying to provide a workplace that is safe and without risk of aggrevating any pre-existing injury or illness. But the information needs to be requested in an appropriate way so that the employee is aware that they are supported and not being put on trial. There is a time and place for requesting further information, but there is a need to always keep in mind the wellbeing of the staff member when approaching such matters.

  2. I like the approach Philip is taking, determining the reason for sickness may not be important immediately but the long term agenda it may have an impact. From building the trust, it will be helpful the manager enquires into the sickness on the employee returning to work, and note if there are other similar incidences that may demonstrate an organisational issue.

  3. The conventional wisdom is that employers should inquire into the reason/s for an employee claiming personal leave (whether paid or unpaid). The rationale is often so the employer can show it cares and offer some (often non-specific) form of support. I am unconvinced that this, with one exception, is either necessary or prudent. That exception is where there is an ongoing issue (e.g. an impairment) raising the possibility of an adjustment being made to how or where work is to be performed.
    Otherwise the reason for an employee being on personal leave is not really the business of the employer. The employer’s business is to manage the implications of the employee’s absence in the workplace and to manage the employee’s absence from the workplace if it becomes protracted or repetitive.

  4. As with any health related concern, an employee should be offered support and confidentiality should they choose to confide with their manager. This is tricky for management as by not knowing important details, can limit their capacity to offer support and guide the employee through a challenging period of life.

    The best thing is to offer confidentiality unless suggestions of self harm is part of the issue. In this case the manager has a duty of care to inform appropriate support services such as EAP. However this too can be done within a confidential discussion between employee and manager

  5. The second question is very interesting from a managerial point of view. I would like to think if I had this information, I would be having an impromptu job and career conversation with all members of my team. We tend to all get bogged with the day to day, and we might find in these discussions that there are small adjustments that could be made, or perhaps there are some stretch assignments needed. You don’t necessarily need to throw costly training or upskilling at this problem if the employee is genuinely looking to move on. Just a thought.

  6. The first issue in question is a confronting one for any Manager, regardless of the level of experience.

    Such a situation warrants a private one-on-one conversation with the colleague, where the Manager expresses his or her need for the colleague’s support. The Manager also needs to appreciate the skills the colleague brings to the table. I would suggest telling the colleague how much he is appreciated and reminding him that if he runs away with the meeting, he will not be allowing his team mates to actively participate nor will he be able to contribute in the development of team mates.

    I would also suggest that the Manager, during the next meeting, assign the role of minuting to the colleague, just reminding him to check in with the Manager before distributing the minutes.

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