By: Amy Matthews, SPHR

Join me, if you will, in picturing this scenario:

Alice was hired 6 months ago. She struggled during her first month, but the excuses sounded plausible.  She had a learning curve on the software.  She was late due to unforeseen car trouble – a few times.  She made errors that were marginally costly to the company. At her 30 day review, the supervisor said: “Give her some more time. She’s better than nobody and she’s much better than the last person we had.” 

Month two comes and goes, and Alice is…well…she still isn’t getting it, but she’s getting it enough to get by.  Errors are still being made, and now she’s getting defensive when you coach her.  Her attitude is terrible. She’s still intermittently late, with excuses, and other employees are noticing. 

Her 90 days come and go and again you hear: “She’s better than nobody.” You are busy and don’t have time to recruit so you tell the manager to keep working with her and you turn your attention to other things.

Then, Alice walks into your office and tells you she’s pregnant.  You have more than 15 employees, so your company must comply with the Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act. Now, in addition to the issues you were having before, Alice is missing work for doctor appointments and morning sickness.  She often leaves early, and her attitude has not improved with the pregnancy.  You now have a poor performer in a protected class and you’re afraid to take disciplinary action or terminate.

Is Alice still better than nobody?  Probably not. So, what’s an employer to do?

Hopefully you have documented all the performance issues – the errors, her poor attitude, etc. If you have, great news; if your actions are not consistent with anything related to the pregnancy, you are not being discriminatory.  You can put performance improvement plans in place; you can even let her go. However, you will need to be sure you can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that these actions have nothing whatsoever to do with the pregnancy.

But underneath all of this is the question – why did you keep her in the first place?

Feeling that an employee is better than nobody should be a blazing red warning flag. Making the right hire in the first place is ideal, but we don’t always have that good fortune. Once you realize that the new hire isn’t cutting it, you must take swift, decisive action. Sometimes, terminating right away is the answer.  Other times, the issues appear to be items that can be taught.  In the latter case, that’s great!  Train away – but don’t wait too long.

Corrective action needs to be concise, deadline oriented, and immediate. Sit down with the employee, tell them exactly what they are doing wrong, give them the tools to fix it, and meet again in one week. If, after that week, they still aren’t getting it (and if you still can’t let them go), give them one more week.  After that, if they still can’t get the job done, and you have provided them the tools and training to do so, it is time to part ways. 

Sometimes we just make a bad hire, and it doesn’t do any good to try and make it work. The key is to recognize it when it happens and act.  Occasionally we can move a person to a different department, and sometimes we inadvertently set someone up to fail, but those are the exceptions to the rule. 

Save yourself time, dollars, and misery (and possibly lawsuits) by recognizing these situations and fixing them the minute they start happening. Sometimes if you wait too long, it’s too late.