Posted  08-26-2011

It happens more often than you might think: Managers are too lenient with problem employees. Whether the inertia is due to laziness, good intentions, or another cause, letting an employee continue to misbehave or underperform can lead to morale problems and inefficiency while the problem employee is on the payroll, and legal problems afterwards.

That’s what happened a few months ago in Crowe v. ADT Security Servs., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 8434 (10th Cir. 2011). Wythe Crowe, an African-American man, was hired by ADT in 1999. Over the next eight years, he accrued a lengthy record of misconduct and poor performance, earning 23 disciplinary actions, five of which were for sexual harassment. In the midst of compiling this unenviable record, in late 2006, Mr. Crowe and two colleagues complained that there were too few African-Americans in management. After making the complaint, Mr. Crowe racked up two more disciplinary infractions, which led to a final written warning. That led an HR manager to review Mr. Crowe’s entire work record, and, as a result, to recommend that he be fired in July, 2007.

Mr. Crowe sued in federal court, alleging that his termination was illegal retaliation for his race discrimination complaint. He argued that, since ADT tolerated his behavior from 1999 to 2007, something else must have motivated his termination. While ADT eventually persuaded a federal appeals court to dismiss Mr. Crowe’s case, that victory was at the price of several years of disruption, litigation costs, and attorneys’ fees in both the trial and appellate courts.

What this means to you:

Management inertia-putting off performance management and delaying termination decisions-can cost a lot. Employees whose performance is not up to par should be coached and counseled to success, but if those efforts do not work, then a well-planned termination is the best option. Keeping a trouble maker or poor performer will discourage good employees and encourage mediocrity.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.