Dealing with Difficult Employees: An Employer's Guide

Dealing with Difficult Employees: An Employer's Guide


James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.


14 January 2022


17 July 2024
7 min read

Dealing with difficult employees

Dealing with difficult employees is a problem that many employers face. It's important to have good staff because they are the backbone of your business. However, it can be hard to manage them when they're not performing well or their behaviour is unacceptable. There are many laws that protect employees which means you need to be very careful when taking disciplinary measures against your employees.

In this article, we will explain common employee issues and the correct steps to take as an employer.

Having problems with your employees? Click here for expert HR advice.

What are the Most Common Employee Issues?

There are a number of ways that an employee can be difficult but they come down to either performance or conduct. Performance issues can usually be resolved by training or coaching the employee. However, if it is their behaviour that is unacceptable, then you may need to take disciplinary action. The most common issues are:

Bullying and Harassment

Bullying and harassment can take many forms, from verbal abuse to spreading rumours. It is important to deal with this type of behaviour as it can have a serious impact on the victim's mental health. To prevent bullying and harassment in the first place, you need to foster the right office culture and clearly set out the rules you expect all employees to follow.

The best way to do this is to have a written policy on office conduct as well as clear guidelines on bullying and harassment. This will ensure that all employees are aware of what is expected and that any incidents can be dealt with appropriately. You should take all complaints seriously, even if they seem trivial or you are unsure of the truth. If an employee has been bullied or harassed, then it's important to reassure them that your organisation does not tolerate it and you will deal with their complaint promptly and fairly.

Lateness or Absence

If an employee is consistently late or absent from work, you need to address the issue as soon as possible. This type of behaviour can have a negative impact on your business, especially if it's happening regularly. You should first talk to the employee privately about their lateness or absence and find out why it's happening. It may be that they are genuinely ill or have personal issues that are causing the issue. You can then find out if there is anything you can do to help them improve their attendance such as offering flexible hours.


If an employee is constantly speaking rudely to their colleagues or managers, this is considered disrespectful behaviour. It can be very disruptive and make it difficult for others to work. Disrespect sometimes comes as a result of a power imbalance. If there are two people working together, one may feel they have more authority than the other and use this as an excuse to be disrespectful. You need to make sure that all employees know that you won't tolerate disrespectful behaviour in the workplace, no matter how high their position is.

Stealing or Fraud

If an employee is stealing or committing fraud, this is a very serious issue that needs to be dealt with immediately. This type of behaviour can not only damage your business but also put you at risk of being sued.

If you have cause to believe an employee has stolen or committed fraud, will then need to hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the allegations. They will have the right to representation during this meeting so it is important to have a lawyer or union representative present. If you are then convinced of your employee's guilt, you may then need to inform the police and your insurance company so that they can start an investigation.

What are the Most Common Employee Issues?


Dishonesty can take on many forms in the workplace. Your employee may have been dishonest with you by providing false information on their CV or have lied to other employees or customers about a business matter. If you suspect that an employee has taken part in any type of dishonesty, it's important that you start an investigation as soon as possible. You will need to hold a meeting with the employee where you can discuss your findings and determine whether or not they have been dishonest.

Gross Negligence

If an employee is not meeting the standards you expect of them or is regularly making careless mistakes, this may be considered gross negligence. This type of behaviour can be very dangerous for your business and can lead to losses, inefficiency and even potentially dangerous accidents.

Some common examples of gross negligence include:

  • Failing to follow health and safety procedures
  • Leaving dangerous equipment unguarded
  • Not cleaning up hazardous materials

If you believe that an employee is guilty of gross negligence, you will need to hold a meeting with them to discuss the issue. If they are unable to improve their behaviour, you may need to take disciplinary action in order to protect your business and other employees.

Poor Productivity

An employee who is unproductive may be working at a slower pace than the rest of their colleagues. This can lead to inefficiency and make it difficult for others to get work done on time.

Unproductivity could also occur as a result of an individual being disengaged from the company or simply not finding enough enjoyment in their job. If this is the case, it may be time to have a discussion with your employee about their career goals and see if there is anything you can do to help them find more meaning in their work.

Out-Of-Office Misconduct

If an employee is engaging in misconduct outside of the workplace, this can still reflect badly on your business. This type of behaviour can be particularly damaging if it involves your customers, as this will cause them to lose trust in you.

Misconduct could include:

You have to be very careful when addressing out of office employee conduct because you don't want to discriminate against them due to their personal life. You can ask your employee about a criminal conviction or arrest, but you cannot deny them employment if the crime was not related to their job. This is why it's so important to be clear on what kind of behaviour will cause disciplinary action when hiring someone new.

How to Discipline an Employee

How to Discipline an Employee

The disciplinary procedures you need to follow will depend on the issue that the employee is facing. However, there are some general steps that you should take based on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) guidelines. ACAS is a government agency that provides information, advice and training to resolve workplace disputes. The ACAS procedures for disciplining an employee are:

Establish the Facts

If you are disciplining an employee for misconduct, it's always important that you have the full facts first. You should gather as much evidence as possible to prove your point and make sure there is no room for doubt. If another member of staff was involved in the incident or witnessed something, they may be able to provide more information about what happened.

If the incident took place outside of work hours and has no bearing on their job, you may decide not to take any action. However, if they have behaved in an inappropriate way towards anyone at work or during business-related activity then it's important that you address this as soon as possible.

Talk to Your Employee First Privately

You should talk to your employee before holding a formal disciplinary meeting. This will allow you to discuss the situation and find out what happened without your employee feeling like they are under attack. You can explain how their actions have affected other members of staff and why this behaviour is inappropriate for business purposes. If they are able to correct the issue there and then, you may find the matter is resolved successfully.

If an employee refuses to accept that they have done anything wrong or acknowledge their behaviour was inappropriate, it's time for a formal disciplinary meeting.

Inform Your Employee of Disciplinary Procedures in Writing

Before your meeting with your employee and before deciding on any further action against them, make sure that all of your employees are aware of the disciplinary procedures that will be followed. This information should be in writing and given to them at least two weeks before any meeting takes place. That way, they have time to prepare their defence and know what is expected of them.

Having problems with your employees? Click here for expert HR advice.

Hold a Meeting with Your Employee

Once you have gathered evidence, clarified the facts and had a private meeting with your employee, it's time to hold a formal disciplinary meeting. Your employee is entitled to have a representative with them at this meeting, such as a trade union representative or friend. You should explain the allegations against them and give them an opportunity to respond. If they have any evidence to support their case, they should be allowed to present it.

Take Disciplinary Measures

After hearing both sides of the story, if you decide that the employee is in the wrong, you will then need to take disciplinary measures. The appropriate measures will depend on the severity of the behaviour and whether you feel the employee has learnt their lesson. You can decide on one or more of the following disciplinary measures:

  • Written warning - A written warning will be issued to your employee that informs them about how their behaviour was inappropriate and what future consequences could follow if they continue misbehaving. The letter should state a certain amount of time for improvement - for example, six months.
  • Final warning - If the employee does not improve their behaviour after a written warning, you can give them a final warning. This will be in writing and state that any further misconduct could lead to dismissal.
  • Demotion - Demoting an employee is a form of disciplinary action which may be used if the employee's behaviour is not severe enough to warrant dismissal. It can also be used as a warning that future misconduct could lead to dismissal.
  • Dismissal - If the employee's behaviour is considered gross misconduct, you may decide to dismiss them from their job. This is an extreme measure and should only be used as a last resort. If you do decide to dismiss an employee, make sure that their dismissal is fair and reasonable and that you give them sufficient notice. You may also want to consider giving them a reference just to make the dismissal as smooth as possible.

Important Considerations to Make

Important Considerations to Make

Before taking any form of disciplinary action against your employees, think about the following carefully:

  • Does the employee have a disability or medical condition?
  • Are they pregnant?
  • How long has the misconduct been going on?
  • Will this matter affect other employees?
  • Will your business suffer if you do not take action against them now?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, it may be worth getting legal advice before taking any disciplinary action. This is because you may need to take special measures and make adjustments so that you do not risk breaking the law. If you are concerned about potential legal issues, get in touch with us today and we can advise you.

Having problems with your employees? Click here for expert HR advice.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with difficult employees is a challenge that all businesses face at some time. However, by following a fair disciplinary procedure and taking appropriate action when necessary, you can deal with issues in a professional and appropriate manner. If you are concerned about disciplinary issues or any other HR matter, get in touch with us today and we can advise you on the best way to manage your employees.

Neathouse Partners: Your Trusted Partner

We empower employers across the UK with tailored advice, offering strategic guidance that aligns with business needs and goals.

99.2 %

Customer happiness rating

99.2 %

Customer happiness rating



Qualified experts

Chester Headquarters

Regus House, Chester CH4 9QR

Success stories
Having used Neathouse for some time now, I can highly recommend their services. I always get a quick response from my lawyer, the advice is practical, and I always feel confident that they’re helping us with the correct approach.
Jasmin Bemmelen Head of People and Culture @ Action Tutoring Ltd

Have questions?

Get in touch today

Contact us, and our team will get back to you within 24 hours. We value your questions and are committed to getting them answered quickly.

Get a quote

Hello! I am Nicky

Just fill in the form below with your details, and I will arrange for a member of our team to give you a call.

By clicking, you agree to our Privacy Policy