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How to deal with underperforming staff

Good staff performance is a key element of practice success. Solicitor Alison Graham explains what to do when standards fall below par

By Alison Graham

Good staff performance is a key element of practice success. Solicitor Alison Graham explains what to do when standards fall below par

Underperforming staff can disrupt the smooth running of your practice as well as knock morale of staff who are picking up the slack. Here is a guide to the procedures you should follow to deal with the problem.

1. Verbal warning

Speak to the employee:

• clarifying the standards required

• identifying areas of concern about their performance against these standards

• establishing causes of poor performance and any training needs or other measures that could be taken to help the employee

• agreeing targets for improvement

• setting a timescale for a review, usually about two to four weeks.

If their performance is satisfactory after the review period, no more action is needed.

2. Written warning

In more serious cases, or where you do not see any improvement, hold a series of meetings. Before each meeting remember to give the employee:

• written notice of the date, time and place

• details of your concerns and their basis

• the opportunity to have a trade union representative or colleague present.

At each stage, the purpose of the meeting is the same as those listed above.

At the end of each meeting you need to decide whether to take any action against the employee. Sanctions should be scaled as per your practice's disciplinary process, but it is important decisions are not made until after the meeting, once all factors have been reviewed.

After each meeting you should write to the employee, setting out:

• details of any sanction, including how long it will remain live

• the areas in which they have not met the required performance standards

• targets for improvement

• any improvement measures to be taken

• a timescale for review

• the consequences of failing to improve within the review period – usually four to six weeks.

If you are still not satisfied with their performance after the review period, you can either extend it, or go to the next stage.

After two or three meetings with no satisfactory improvement, or further poor performance while a final written warning is live, a further meeting should be held.

3. The final meeting

In addition to the issues in earlier meetings, the purpose of this meeting is to establish whether there are any:

• further steps that could reasonably be taken to rectify the poor performance

• chance of the required standard being met in a reasonable time

• practical alternatives to dismissal, such as redeployment to a suitable available job.

Where it is likely an improvement can be made within a reasonable timescale, you can extend the final written warning.

If the employee's performance remains unsatisfactory and there is no further review period, your options are to redeploy (vacancies permitting) or terminate their employment. This could be three to four months after starting the process. Dismissal will usually be with full notice or payment in lieu of notice, unless the employee is guilty of gross misconduct.

It is advisable to include this process in your practice's employee handbook so staff know what to expect and managers deal with performance issues consistently.

Alison Graham is senior staff solicitor at Veale Wasbrough

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