As an entrepreneur, you'll run into sticky situations at work, whether it's grumbling employees or distractions, that get in the way of productivity.
Dealing with weirdness in the office is never easy, but it's essential to running a successful company. "Human resources problems that get ignored have a really nasty habit of not going away," says Margaret Hart Edwards, a shareholder at employment law firm Littler Mendelson.
Never fear: The experts are here to offer their advice for handling 10 sticky HR situations that might otherwise leave you floored and fumbling.
1. Two employees start dating or break up
Forty-six percent of employees have been involved in an office romance, according to Vault's "2008 Office Romance Survey." But office relationships can create all sorts of awkward morale problems for employers, as well as legal dangers, such as sexual harassment claims. Given the potential risks, "the employer does have to intervene," Edwards says. Meet privately with the employees and have them state that it's a voluntary, consensual relationship to protect against a sexual harassment claim. They should keep things professional, meaning no visible PDA or sharing of company information (e.g., sales leads) in ways that could put their co-workers at a disadvantage.
Also talk about the potential of a breakup and the professionalism you expect. If they're at-will employees, they should know you could fire them for inappropriate behavior.
2. An employee shares too much personal information with co-workers
This is the employee who talks in excruciating detail about his impending divorce, recent doctor's visit or latest romantic relationship. There's no topic that's off limits--and for co-workers, there's nowhere to hide. Tim Young, founder and CEO of multimillion-dollar software firm Socialcast, has dealt with "TMI" employees at the company's Irvine, Calif., headquarters. He takes these employees to lunch and brings up the topic. Says Young, 27, "You can coach them on reducing the amount of information they're providing to [other] employees and refocus them back on the company."
3. A laid-off employee turns vengeful
An angry ex-employee can cause a lot of havoc, from 3 a.m. prank calls to hacking into the company's computer system.
If he takes things too far, file a property damage report with the police. Even if you're working only on suspicion that an ex-employee is behind the mischief, you can explain why you believe the ex-employee may be the culprit. "If you're lucky, the cops might call on the ex-employee and investigate it," Edwards says. Plan ahead for ex-employees who could pose a problem. Research security companies and know how to file a restraining order, if necessary. Treat employees how you would like to be treated, too. Says Edwards, "[Lay] people off in the most respectful and humane way possible to try to minimize this sort of behavior."
Employees wear politics or religion on their sleeve
Religion and politics are topics best avoided, but some employees will work them into the conversation.
There's a big difference between the employee who simply says "God bless you" and the employee who tries to convert his co-workers. As the employer, you may ask an employee to refrain from religious conversation around fellow co-workers who find it objectionable and could file harassment or hostile work environment claims. Be careful, however, not to discriminate against the employee because of her religious expression, says James M. Craig, an employment attorney with Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing.
Remind employees that politics can make people angry and distract from the work. Suggest they save these discussions for break times.
Employees think a co-worker got an undeserved promotion
Nelson suggests meeting with the employees who have a problem with the promotion. Talk to them about what you're hearing and let them offer their side. Tell them why this co-worker received the promotion, focusing on skill sets instead of personality traits. Then ask them to stop the negativity. "State that it's inappropriate to complain about a co-worker and that you would like them to stop doing so," says Bob Nelson, author of 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees.