There’s never a dull moment in HR. Although most moments are good, there are times when things are definitely not. Unfortunately the rule book for dealing with tricky HR situations hasn’t been written (yet), so if you find yourself struggling with an employee problem and wondering what to do, think about applying the emergency medicine principle of ‘triage’ to assess the scale and urgency of the problem and how to deal with it.

If you have a problem with an employee, there are two important points we want to make. Whatever the problem, the first thing is don’t panic (unless it is a real life-or-death emergency, in which case dial 111).

Second, don’t fire your employee on the spot. Whatever has happened, you need to follow a fair and reasonable process. Before leaping into action take a deep breath and follow our Triage for HR steps…

Triaging a tricky HR situation
Step 1: Gather the facts. What has happened? How did it happen? When did it happen?
Tip: Make sure you genuinely listen to the employee’s side – don’t jump to conclusions and definitely don’t accuse.

Step 2: Assess what sort of issue it is – minor, moderate or significant. Take the appropriate action and remember to always document what has been done.


Minor issues
A minor HR issue might be an employee who was a little rude to a customer or late to work. Even if it appears to be totally out of character and a one-off, don’t ignore it.

The best approach is to have an informal chat with the employee – outline the problem, state your expectations, and make sure you document the conversation. You don’t need to make a big song and dance about it, just quietly get your point across.

Moderate issues
An employee who is repeatedly late for work, or whose performance is below par, and has persistently ignored previous requests, would fall into the moderate category.

Even though you have had several conversations with the employee it’s now got to the point where it is impacting on your business. You need to work out a positive plan of action and work with the employee to find a solution. If you’re not sure where to start, an HR professional can help with this.

Significant issues
These are the issues that really test us as managers. It could be that an employee has punched someone at work, or perhaps they returned a non-negative drug test, or you believe they have stolen money. Any of these are likely to be serious misconduct and we recommend you pick up the phone right away and call an HR professional or lawyer to get advice.

In 99% of serious misconduct cases, the employee will likely be stood down; however you need to consult with the employee before you stand them down. Get advice early on from an expert and they will guide you through the process.

Navigating employment issues can be a minefield. But using these simple triage steps can help to identify the problem and how serious it is, so you can approach it in a way that is professional and respectful of all parties.

If you need help with a tricky situation, give us a call. Talking to us before you make a decision may be all you need.