Last week I was visiting with John, a fellow business owner who had discovered that one of his key employees (Chris) had been adding overtime hours on his time card that he hadn’t worked. John was beside himself, this wasn’t the first time Chris had been reprimanded for stealing; the last time it was for taking scrap material.
Chris performed a critical task in John’s production process. Except for John, Chris was the only person in the company who had ever held that position. John felt like he was over a barrel. He couldn’t fire Chris or he’d jeopardize shipping dates for important customers.
“What does your employee manual say about theft?” I asked. “Because that’s what Chris is doing when he adds hours to his time card; he’s stealing from you.”
“I don’t have an employee manual.”
“Well, what did you tell Chris when you reprimanded him for stealing scrap material?”
“I told him theft was a fire-able offense and the next time he’d lose his job.”
“It doesn’t look like you’ve got much choice,” I pointed out.
“But you don’t understand; Chris is crucial to my process! I can’t fire him,”John protested.
“What if Chris got hit by a bus tomorrow and didn’t come to work. What would you do then?”
John thought for a minute and said, “I guess I’d have to go back on the floor and figure out that process; then I’d train someone else how to do it.” “I think you’ve got your answer John. You have to take action; chances are other employees know Chris is cheating on his time card. If you don’t do something, morale will suffer and you’ll lose the respect of your employees.”
“You’re right. I have to fire Chris,” John agreed.
In parting I reminded John that his industry association has a sample handbook for members. Having clear, written rules protects you in the event that the employee decides to sue you for wrongful discharge.
There are a couple lessons to be learned from John’s experience.
• First, never have any job that doesn’t have a trained back-up, especially one that’s critical to your process.
• Second, make sure you have an employee handbook and that each individual hired gets a copy and signs a receipt stating they received it.
Your attorney will thank you.
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“Remember that failure is an event, not a person. Yesterday ended last night..”