How to discipline a worker for a poor attitude
A poor attitude is easily recognised but much less easily documented and can be a difficult issue to discipline due to its subjective nature.
It is frustrating for managers to deal with employees who have a poor attitude but whose work performance is good, because the negative behaviour is much harder to discipline without incurring liability for the company. Managers must avoid the perception of discrimination or disparate treatment when dealing with attitude problems and focus on the issues that can be objectively identified.
Identify the specific behaviours manifested by the poor attitude. For example, if the employee's poor attitude involves a demonstrable lack of effort -- including tardiness or missed deadlines -- or whether it is restricted to workplace behaviours such as eye rolling and insubordinate comments.
Review workplace policies and standards. Identify if behavioural expectations are outlined -- for example, if the employee should reasonably be on notice that eye-rolling is unprofessional. If expectations are not specifically detailed -- and they likely are not because it is impossible to cover every instance of behaviour -- hold a staff meeting to refresh employees on various aspects of the policy, and give specific examples. Require employees to sign in to the meeting, and keep the sign-in sheet as documentation.
Set clear expectations with the employee. Review the appropriate policies and verbally counsel the employee about the specific behaviours he is exhibiting. Put the employee on notice that certain behaviours -- for example, eye-rolling -- are inappropriate, unprofessional and unacceptable in the workplace. Directly inform the employee that if his behaviour continues, discipline will result. Factually document the meeting in a counselling memo or follow-up e-mail to the employee, and save the documentation for your file.
Gather documentation evidencing the employee's continued poor attitude. Make sure the documents are factual and objective and do not contain subjective inferences such as the "tone" of an e-mail.
Issue the employee with formal discipline -- a letter of reprimand, suspension, demotion, pay reduction or termination, for example -- if the behaviour continues. Focus the letter around the specific examples of behaviour and the established policy or clear expectation that was violated. Avoid vague generalisation such as "poor attitude" in the disciplinary document -- the details must include the what, where and when of each incident. Retain the disciplinary document as a basis for future discipline if the behaviour does not improve.
Consider the reasons for discipline -- to correct and change the behaviour -- and determine if formal discipline is necessary for attitude problems or if you can address the issues through informal counselling, which can be used as documentation later.
If the employee alleges retaliation, any discipline for a subjective reason such as attitude will be thoroughly investigated by an agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Store all your documentation in the event you have to defend your actions.