A breakdown in the working relationship is never easy to resolve, but it should be discussed openly between the parties involved. In business, as in all walks of life, there is a mix of personalities and personality clashes. This can be antagonised in the workplace by the fact that people are required to work together, work for the business, engage with management and do what is reasonably required in the role.
Problems can arise when management and an employee do not get on, and this festers and grows into an unworkable relationship.
There are a couple of options for the business. The first, is to keep confirming that duties to be completed are reasonable management requests, and that should there be a failure to complete the task it could result in disciplinary action. This can seem at times heavy-handed, and incur the retaliation of grievances i.e. bullying against the employee. It entrenches the positions, and although an employer could get to the stage where they could dismiss the employee due to a ‘totting up’ of offences, clearly it is not a ‘quick fix’ way of resolving the issues.
The second option is a grown up discussion between the employee and employer to discuss whether or not they can work together, and to consider how to actively get to a stage where a working relationship can exist. The employer should invite the employee to a formal meeting to discuss the working relationship, and whether or not it has fundamentally broken down and simply cannot be repaired.
If both parties agree that they cannot work through the differences and have a working relationship then it could be that there is a mutual termination of employment. On the other hand, if the employer thinks that there has been a fundamental breakdown which is irretrievable, and the employee thinks it can be repaired, then there must be an opportunity for one final attempt at making it work. The employer must be able to demonstrate that it has acted in a reasonable manner, namely given all opportunities to be repaired. If, after another trial there is still no real working relationship in place, then a dismissal on the grounds of a breakdown in the working relationship as a ‘Some Other Substantial Reason’ dismissal could be fair.
This is an underused process by employers, perhaps due to the fact that it is difficult to discuss the actual working relationship and clashes of personality. It is often seen as easier to use conduct as a reason. However, where there are no real conduct issues, but that the two parties simply cannot work together then this route could help resolve many issues, and if not result in a swift and fair termination of employment.
Honesty in not being able to work together can result in practical and conducive discussions. It also can result in rebuilding the relationship, or proving that there was simply nothing which could be done to save it. The onus is on the company however, to demonstrate that it did all it could to resolve the issue, before any final decision over employment is taken.