By William Wiley, September 19, 2017

We routinely invite participants in our FELTG webinars to email us with follow-up questions if we can be of further help. The fundamental question below came from a recent participant who had a head-hanging problem. Unfortunately, it is too late for us to help this time, but next time, she’ll be prepared:

Dear FELTG Sensei-

I struggled for four years with a deeply troublesome employee and I eventually left the job because of him. He was an older male and very crafty. My successors and I had no end of trouble with his behaviors, one of which was to hang his head and stare into his lap at meetings (and generally require us to work very hard to extract more verbal input), keeping his door shut, etc. Nonetheless I’m amazed to know that, as you have taught, I could have implemented a rule that he could no longer hang his head and stare at his lap in meetings, or that his door must remain open unless he’s in a meeting. I have no doubt that if I had issued a written reprimand for one thing, he would then comply, and implement some other troublesome/disruptive behavior. 

So how does one deal with an employee who constantly plays a game of complying with each successive rule and has a dozen other ways to be difficult? I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Many thanks!

And our always-enlightening FELTG counsel:

Dear Participant-

Yep, you really can tell them what to do. I once worked with a supervisor who required an employee to smile at everyone he spoke to at least once a day, and reprimanded him when he did not. The law is a powerful thing if you understand it. Employees really do have to obey their supervisors.

The trick to multi-jerkiness is progressive discipline. First head hanging after being told not to do it = Reprimand. Closing the door later after being told to keep it open = Suspension. A third offense of anything demonstrates that he does not respond to discipline, and a removal is usually warranted. Or, if you really want to be extra conservative, you could give a second, longer suspension. A fourth offense of anything has always been a removable offense. Always. He’s not going to get to a dozen other ways to be difficult because he’s going to be fired way before then.

Hope this helps. Take care out there-

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that drive us nuts. Grasping the concept that if an individual wants to be paid, he must do what his boss tells him is fundamental to being a federal supervisor. As we often say in our seminars, when a new employee raises her hand and takes the oath to be a civil servant, what she is really saying – by law – that “In exchange for getting paid every two weeks, I will:

  • Do what my government tells me to do,
  • Where my government tells me to do it,
  • When I am told it is to be done.”

If she doesn’t want to do any of these three things, that’s fine. They are always hiring at McDonald’s. [email protected]

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