For employers it can be a real challenge to deal with difficult employees and personality clashes within the workplace.

Whilst such clashes can have a detrimental impact on the success of an organisation, they can also severely disrupt team morale, absence levels, employee retention and health and wellbeing in the workplace.

In situations where an employee’s personality, difficult nature or irreconcilable differences are causing a substantial impact or disruption to an organisation, employers could consider dismissal. It was highlighted in the case of Perkin v St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust [2005], that an employer can dismiss a difficult employee fairly, even where there are no competence issues, as long as a fair procedure is followed.

Whilst it’s unlikely to be lawful to dismiss someone for personal quirks, trivial matters, low-level personality clashes or matters related to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, a fair dismissal can be reached if an employee-manager relationship, which is crucial to the success of a business, has broken down to such an extent that it’s unlikely to be repairable.

It may be possible to deal with difficult employees or personality clashes under an employer’s disciplinary procedure for conduct or capability, however this approach could be risky if it involves placing emphasis on the personality itself as the reason for the dismissal.

Alternatively, depending on the circumstances of the individual case, employers could use ‘some other substantial reason’ (SOSR) to dismiss someone, by placing emphasis on the effect of the difficult behaviour or personality clash on the organisation, as opposed to the behaviour or clash itself.

For a SOSR dismissal to be fair, it’s important that an employer can demonstrate to an employment tribunal that the effect of the difficult nature, personality clash or irreconcilable differences, is so severe that it caused substantial disruption, or some other negative impact, to the organisation.

Although not an exhaustive list, examples where an employer may be able to fairly dismiss an employee in relation to their personality include:

Furthermore, it’s crucial for employers to take certain steps in order to satisfy an employment tribunal that a fair procedure has been followed in dismissing an employee for SOSR. This might include carrying out a fair and proper investigation, ruling out the possibility of any spurious or vindictive accusations being made, attempting to address the issues or differences in an informal yet timely manner and exploring all reasonable alternatives to dismissal.

To carry out a fair procedure and to attempt to resolve any issues in the workplace, an employer could consider alternatives to dismissal, such as:

Dealing with difficult employees can be a real challenge for employers. That said, it’s important that these situations are handled correctly, particularly if an employer is contemplating dismissing an employee, so it generally makes sense to seek expert legal advice early.

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