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CAN YOU FIRE SOMEONE FOR BEING RUDE TO CUSTOMERS?

A staff member acts out of turn, perhaps not for the first time. Do you know your rights as an employer?

Running a small business demands high quality customer service and the creation of positive experiences. Good service can ensure return business, positive online reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations within your customer’s personal network. So, what do you do when an employee demonstrates poor, or in some instances, totally unacceptable customer service?

Depending upon the severity of the rudeness, you may wish to terminate the employee. Remember though, when terminating an employee for serious misconduct, there are procedural steps that must be followed.

Evaluate the situation

Consider the employee’s behaviour carefully. Was it a one-off incident or regular, repeated behaviour? If it’s only a single instance, think about the context surrounding the employee’s behaviour – how severe was the ‘rudeness’ and is it going to impact your business long term, or damage your company’s reputation? If yes, then this might be considered serious misconduct.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, serious misconduct can include:

  • theft
  • assault
  • being drunk at work
  • safety violations (to customers or co-workers)
  • harassment
  • the employee refusing to carry out lawful and reasonable instructions that are consistent with the employee’s contract of employment.

If any one of these incidents has occurred, you will have grounds for termination of employment. However, this is not as easy as it sounds – termination requires a well structured, thought-out plan. This is especially the case with cases of poor customer service or rudeness, where the details may be less clear cut. If you’re not sure what the next step should be, contact an employment expert such as Employsure before speaking with the employee to avoid a costly unfair dismissal claim.

If the rude behaviour is not severe enough to warrant serious misconduct, the next step might be to look at the ways the employee’s behaviour can be managed going forwards to prevent a repeat performance.

Behaviour management

You might consider giving the employee a warning, or even a final warning, to avoid the behaviour recurring. These warnings pave the way for a future termination if the behaviour continues and you do choose to terminate the employee.

However, it’s important to recognise that sometimes rude behaviour by staff can be a symptom of serious underlying problems that may exist in your business. If you suspect this to be the case, it may be useful to consider a few common causes and think about how you might improve in these areas.

Lack of training: If there is no ongoing customer service training, implement a training plan and explain the workplace policies.

Low staff morale: Create an environment of open communication within the team and make sure there are opportunities to foster constructive feedback. Encourage staff to voice their concerns either with yourself or their manager (depending on the size of your business) before things escalate. It’s important that managers are approachable and will listen respectfully.

Inconsistent/unclear expectations: Performance management plans are a fantastic way to track, measure and document employee performance and behaviour. Personalised plans set clear expectations, goals and identify gaps in the employee’s skills/knowledge or training to avoid frustration or confusion.

Stress: Try to be aware of stressful situations employees may be experiencing outside of the workplace that could be impacting their performance and mental health during work hours. Check in with your staff outside of management meetings by asking if they’re are okay or if there is something you can do to help improve their ability to work. Offer open conversations with your employees to help support performance management.

These strategies are a fantastic way of managing ‘rude’ employees – a proactive approach is always best.

If, after assessing the situation, the rude behaviour is severe enough or the employee has displayed serious misconduct, Employsure advisers can provide the necessary guidance in managing a termination process and help avoid a messy unfair dismissal claim. They can also help implement policies for future employees to follow.

Kerri-Ann Allen, Senior Employment Relations Adviser, Employsure

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