Bosses, don’t be tricked into firing the wrong employee

Question:

Our deli/cafe is open 12 hours a day — we catch both the “going to work” crowd and the “heading home” customers. We offer a wide variety of coffees, sandwiches, comfort foods and pastries. Four months ago, we began offering take-away “self-catering” foods. If customers give us 72 hours notice, we can provide them everything they need for a casual “made-it-myself” dinner party, at less than the cost of a caterer, for only slightly more than what it would cost them to pick up pre-made but not “custom” food at Costco. When customers call in one of those orders, we route the call directly to the cook on duty, because she can hear exactly what the customers want.

Two of our three cooks, “Angie” and “Jane,” absolutely hate each other. Both are good workers, but they rub each other the wrong way and constantly snipe at each other. As a result, we’ve put them on different shifts, though this makes scheduling hard. We’ve debated firing one or the other because when their schedules overlap, it’s nasty.

This afternoon, a customer came in to pick up everything she needed for a Friday evening dinner party, and all hell broke loose. There was nothing ready for her. She freaked.

I tried to calm her down, but no luck. She’s been one of our steadiest “self-catering” customers, and now we’ve lost her. The customer told me Angie took her phoned-in order. I talked with Angie, and she swears she never took the order. It’s not the first time she’s forgotten something, so I sent her home without pay. Because the third cook was sick with the flu, I asked Jane to work a double shift. She did so without complaint.

It was so peaceful here doing that second shift, I’m wondering if I should fire Angie.

Answer:

Investigate further. You say Jane worked the double shift without complaint. Given how she’s sniped at Angie in the past, that makes me suspicious. Call the customer and ask what day she called in her order.

Several years ago, one of my clients, a 24/7 computer tech help firm, lost a major customer because the customer called in an emergency and received no help. The firm asked me to call the customer afterward in a client survey and potentially talk the customer into giving the firm second chance.

When I asked the customer for details, he told me the day on which he’d called and the employee he spoke to. I checked the schedules and the employee the customer named hadn’t worked that day. When I investigated further, I determined that another employee had set the first employee up to take a fall by taking the call, giving his co-worker’s name and “losing” the information.

In other words, don’t fire the wrong employee.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.

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