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My employee is slacking off, but she’s always telling me about her rights. What are my rights as an employer?

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: May 13, 2019
  • Published May 13, 2019

Q: I supervise an employee with a flabby work ethic who always tells me about her rights. She keeps portals open on her desktop to sites such as the Department of Labor and the Online Law Library. She insists she never looks at these websites during work hours and only on her lunch break, though when I’ve asked, “So why do you load them with your start menu?” she reminds me it’s “her right” to do so. Unfortunately, I’ve let this situation go on for far too long and she’s soured several other employees. I need to fire her sooner rather than later, but worry I’ll be hit with a lawsuit when I do so.

Employees have a lot of rights. Do I, as a small-business owner, have any rights other than a right to fire an employee like this?

A: Yes. You have the right not to feel threatened. Business owners need to know and care about employee rights. You don’t, however, need to worry about the possibility of a lawsuit or complaint to a regulatory commission to the extent that you hamstring yourself or your business or accept chronically low productivity. If you supervise an employee with a flabby work ethic, focus on that. If this or any other employee consistently falls short of expectations, you can terminate her for low performance.

You have the right to educate yourself. When you supervise an employee who broadcasts that she knows her rights and the laws, you need to play your “A” game. This means knowing as much about employees’ rights as your employees. Employee rights include the right to file complaints, organize unions and fair treatment.

You have the right to expect attendance and punctuality. You don’t need to tolerate habitual tardiness or chronic absenteeism unless your employee has an Americans with Disabilities or a Family Medical Leave Act reason or if you allow these behaviors from one employee and not others.

You have the right to expect that your employees focus on their jobs during work hours and that they perform well. You hired this employee to work, not to surf the internet researching matters of personal interest or spend their time keeping up with their personal life during work hours. You have the right to expect your employees to leave high-school theatrics behind when they report to work.

Just like employees, you have the right to privacy. Your financial records, operating methods and clientele are all private, proprietary information unless you are required by law to file certain documents.

You have the right to search the computer hard drives you furnish employees during the workday. You have the right to learn when your employee accesses open portals.

According to Emily Heller, manager of employee experience for the Avitus Group, you can’t let your employee’s implicit threat “that she ‘knows her rights’ fog your ability to remain level-headed. Examine your employee’s performance and this situation from a factual standpoint, without subjectivity. Follow your company’s processes and procedures and address work performance issues promptly and ‘by the book.' ”

Avitus Group Director of Human Resources Corey Daspit adds that you can weather this storm if you “document the conversations you have with your employee and consistently follow a stepped-progression toward formal discipline.” Daspit also suggests you “remember that whatever action you take when handling this employee become a practice and a precedent.”

Do you have rights? Absolutely.