UK: Tread carefully in bandit country.

UK: Tread carefully in bandit country. - Mister Meanor advises on a problem employee with learning difficulties and a complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Mister Meanor advises on a problem employee with learning difficulties and a complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Dear Mister Meanor

I am the manager of a branch of an auto repair chain. Several months ago, I took on an employee with learning difficulties. At the time, I believed that he was perfectly capable of doing what was asked of him.

Moreover, I have a sense of community responsibility and this seemed a good way for my company to 'do its bit'. At first, everything worked well.

But, over the last month, his attendance has been erratic and he has not been carrying out his duties (which, to be honest, are pretty basic) as instructed. When mistakes are pointed out to him, he doesn't seem to understand what he's doing wrong and is sorely testing the patience of his colleagues - all of whom have work to get on with. If he were a 'normal' employee, I would have sacked him by now. As he's not, I am torn between doing the 'right thing' from a business viewpoint and the 'right thing' full stop. What should I do?

In a Moral Maze


Dear In a Moral Maze

You are right: this is a difficult situation and, unfortunately, one with no easy solution. Rest assured, however, thus far your conduct has been commendable. Really, your best course of action is to give him as much leeway as possible and try as hard as you can to make him aware of the seriousness of the situation. As you point out, this is not a simple case of sacking a slacker. If, when all's said and done, this employee is damaging the operational integrity of your business, however, then you will have to 'let him go'. But do try everything within reason to prevent this outcome - you are quite right that businesses should put something back into the community and employing those with learning difficulties is an excellent way of doing this.


Mister Meanor

Dear Mr Meanor

As the personnel director of a medium-sized company, I have just received a complaint from a female member of staff. She says that a male colleague has been sexually harassing her and generally behaving in an untoward manner. The matter is a little more complicated than a simple complaint, though. The man in question, while an excellent and valued member of staff, does have something of a ribald 'Owright girls!' manner, although, as far as I know, he is just a huggy type and not a molester. Still, his demeanour could upset more sensitive or politically correct souls. On the other hand, the woman in question is something of a serial complainant: this man is by no means the first person she has accused of inappropriate conduct. That said, I believe I should not only take all complaints of this nature seriously but be seen to take them seriously.

Losing my Cool


Dear Losing my Cool

You are in bandit country here. Chances are, whatever you do, it will result in some type of problem. If you play down the woman's complaint, you become part of a sexist male hegemony; but if you haul your man across the coals, you may make him feel like a pervert for something most people would dismiss. So, steer the most sensitive course you can. Assure the woman her complaint is being dealt with. Then, as discreetly as possible, ask the accused to come and see you. The ideal course of action is a quiet word in his ear to explain the whole situation and point out that some may not appreciate his behaviour. You should give him a mild, friendly warning - but be careful. What you should not do is assume he's guilty or make him feel like a criminal. Men also have rights and, although you would never guess it from situations such as these, we have a tradition of presumed innocence.

Good luck

Mister Meanor.

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