Over my 22+ years of counseling companies with respect to challenging personnel situations, I have often advised clients that “no good deed goes unpunished.” I have found it to be particularly true in the employment context. I have repeatedly seen well intentioned Human Resources Managers do “good deeds” for marginal or even “bad” employees, only to be “punished” later in a variety of ways. Here are just a few examples:
1. Failing to terminate an employee who clearly violated a major work rule and was at the termination stage under the company’s disciplinary policy because you didn’t have anyone readily available to replace him.
PUNISHMENT: You are stuck waiting for the employee to screw up even worse. And good luck trying to terminate someone else for the same offense – if you do, and that other person is in a “protected classification,” you will be sued for discrimination.
2. Despite poor employment references, hiring an applicant on the recommendation of a friend.
PUNISHMENT: Thanks “friend.” You are now saddled with a bad employee for a year or more while you counsel, document and line up the termination.
3. Giving a poor performing employee an annual pay increase because you didn’t want to send “too negative of a message.”
PUNISHMENT: The employee hears a different message (“you’re doing ok”), and doesn’t improve his performance. He is stunned and angry when later terminated. You get to explain in the subsequent discrimination case that you actually thought the employee was terrible (despite rewarding him with more money).
4. Writing a positive letter of reference for an employee who was terminated for poor performance because you “felt sorry” for her.
PUNISHMENT: The letter of reference will be “Plaintiff’s Exhibit A” in the subsequent unemployment, discrimination or wrongful termination claim. How could the company have terminated such a “great” employee?
So save your good deeds for someone who deserves them – your favorite charity, family or friends.
Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202