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I am new to management and managing a team of 7. A month ago, an employee I manage decided to move out. All the knowledge transfer was complete in the first 2 weeks. I had assigned some long pending tasks to her but she is refusing to take up the tasks as the new work seemed to be monotonous. I doubt she has been slacking off for last two weeks.

My line manager is pressing me to complete the long pending tasks but I am in a tough position with her insubordination.

Two days back my manager approved my repeated request to fire her. However, HR is denying my request. HR is afraid that firing a female employee could possibly attract lawsuits owing to the local laws.

She has learned of my intention to fire her and is becoming too passive-aggressive to manage. My life is going to be terrible for the next 2 months. How do I get the employee to take up the new tasks?

Background

She is a long timer in the company and got 4 promotions in last 4 years due to some local politics. Therefore, she never respected any other colleagues or the new managers. Notice period is 3 months in all companies in my country.

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    Who will handle these tasks once this employee is gone? Why don't you assign these tasks to someone who actually has an incentive to do work? – sf02 Jul 1 at 15:15
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    What would you have done if you were allowed to fire her? The tasks have to be done by someone, don't you have anyone else that can do them? – sf02 Jul 1 at 15:16
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    Per HR, even our CEO cannot fire a female employee. Companies fear the local female chauvinistic laws. – namita Jul 1 at 19:30
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    "female chauvinistic local laws" -- What does this mean to you? – trognanders Jul 2 at 0:52
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    @namita Is it supposed to sound really misogynistic? Trying to ensure there is no miscommunication here that might unfairly color the answers... – trognanders Jul 2 at 8:14
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She won't work, and you can't fire her. Your manager would be happy to fire her, but HR won't let you.

If you fire her, this work will not be done. If you keep her, this work will not be done. So talk to HR about sending her off on gardening leave - you can apply any restrictions you want, but basically, she is classed as still serving notice (so can't work for anyone else), but you don't have her in the office causing problems. HR and company rules will define whether you leave her with access to any company systems and equipment during gardening leave (No access would be preferable).

You're still left with the issue of the non-completed work; nothing has changed in that respect anyway.

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  • I cannot give her early exit since it is highly discouraged by HR policies. Every other employee might follow this approach to get early exit. All the long pending tasks are generally carried out by departing employees. 2) I cannot give her free paid vacation for 3 months notice period. Again, bad example to all other employees. – namita Jul 1 at 18:36
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    @namita Consider how much damage a malicious person could do to your systems if they were forced to work on them. That danger is the usual reason for gardening leave – Dave Gremlin Jul 1 at 23:30
  • Given the restriction on firing her, the best you can do is find another female to work her role before firing her. This situation is a "bad example" either way, because keeping her working would imply to others that it is okay to severely underperform. Plus, unless your new hire decides to specifically exploit the restriction, there is not a great risk of other people following suit since they would not be protected by the same law that kept her. Gardening leave lets you save face, and as Dave mentioned, can actually save you some potential trouble. – Kroltan Jul 2 at 1:58
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    HR has clearly valued the cost of a possible lawsuit as higher than the cost of an idle employee's notice period, so just live with it. – Kroltan Jul 2 at 2:01
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    The OP needs to realize that a staff doesn't HAVE to produce positive work. They can produce NEGATIVE work that needs more time to fix. Employees are not machines; you don't just run them into the ground to get the "last drop" of output. They can do things that can range from a nuisance to a catastrophe. – Nelson Jul 2 at 3:09
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The fact that these long-pending tasks are generally carried out by departing employees seems like you/the company saves them as up. So there are some !*#&-jobs for leavers to do (to punish them).

Add to this your firm belief that all of her 4 promotions were solely because of political reasons, the "chauvinistic female laws" you mention and the fact that you tried to get her fired in her notice period, just out of spite in my opinion.

This all makes me think you are presenting us a quite one-sided/skewed story.

Maybe your best course of action would be to have some introspection about the way you treated her (and mayby your other subordinates). Quite a coincidence after all that she is leaving soon after you became her manager.

After that perhaps you can try to make some amends with her and persuade her to chip in getting the "long standing tasks" done, together with rest of the team.

After all, if these tasks are really that important, the whole team should help with them. Not just someone who happens to be leaving.

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    I am far older than this employee and not jealous about her growth. Due to the budget constraints we did not promote anyone in my team and this got her mad. When one employee is demoralizing the entire team, it is obvious to want to fire them. Departing employees need to do the less interesting tasks and this is not new in my place. – namita Jul 1 at 21:56
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    I agree that it seems quite unhealthy to have a pile of boring tasks for departing employees to either do in a slapdash fashion or just refuse to do entirely. It does look like punishment for those who want to leave. And one might question how important these tasks really are if they're left sitting around for a long time to be eventually done only by demoralized employees who have zero motivation to do them well. That's no way to assign important tasks. Is the employee refusing to do any work at all or just refusing to do these dull and unpleasant tasks? – Zach Lipton Jul 1 at 23:48
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    The OP tried to get her fired for not doing work. I don’t think that’s “out of spite” - that seems to be an excellent reason to fire someone. – Tim Jul 2 at 8:30
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    Also, these may be the only tasks someone can do while leaving as to not leak info or because they are not as urgent. They're still in pay and they should still do their job. 50% of this answer just reeks of bias. – Erikus Jul 2 at 9:10
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A month ago, an employee I manage decided to move out. All the knowledge transfer was complete in the first 2 weeks.

...then her job is, essentially, done.

Sure, in an ideal world you'd have the knowledge transfer done and then she'd work hard on any menial tasks that you provide until her time with you is complete. But (exceptional employees aside) it simply doesn't work out that way. Heck, in many cases you're lucky if knowledge transfer even gets done after an employee hands in their notice, let alone anything else. This is part of the reason a long notice period is often not a good thing - when knowledge transfer is done, you're just in limbo paying an employee that's got no incentive to do any work.

So what's the solution?

My line manager is pressing me to complete the long pending tasks but I am in a tough position with her insubordinations. [...] The other employees are busy with the new/current project deadlines.

Simply push the problem back on your line manager:

Hi Bob, as I've mentioned already, Alice isn't a viable option for completing those tasks at the moment - she simply has no incentive to do so. Other team members are all tied up with project x. Charlie may be the best resource to move onto these tasks if they're to be treated as a priority, but this will likely push x back at least 2 weeks, possibly as much as a month.

How would you like me to proceed?

It's then up to your boss to say how he wants you to use your available resource. You've given him options, it's up to him how he tells you to prioritise.

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    Agreed it is a problem with the long notice periods. Even the popular US company branches in india are following 3 month notice period due to the liberal labor laws. – namita Jul 1 at 19:36
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    That's notice period for firing employees. Not for employees quitting. Your HR should have thought about that before it happened. – jo1storm Jul 2 at 10:48
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How do I get the employee to take up the new tasks?

You can't force someone to do something that they don't want to do. Since there is no threat of this employee being fired, they will continue to do whatever they want.

To resolve the issue with the new tasks, you need to prioritize all of the current projects that your other employees are working on and assign the new tasks accordingly. If you are not sure of which tasks should have priority, you need to speak to your boss.

As for the problematic employee, speak with HR and ask if they can have this employee serve their notice period from their home. This way, it would be less likely that she instills bad behavior on the part of your other employees. But if your other employees are highly susceptible to being influenced by the leaving employee then you have a bigger problem on your hands.

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  • Note this gardening leave is normal with UK and European companies. When you resign you either get marched out the door immediately or if you are trusted you do a handover and then if extra time a bit of gardening leave. – mmmmmm Jul 5 at 12:32
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You write:

Departing employees need to do the less interesting tasks.

But it seems departing employees don't actually need to do the less interesting tasks (and the tasks are self-evidently unimportant because companies don't leave truly important tasks sitting around for a long time waiting for someone to quit so they can be done by the least motivated person in the building) because, accepting your constraints as givens and within the bounds of legal and moral behavior, you have no actual ability to require they be done. If the employee prefers not to do the tasks, and you have no mechanism to provide an incentive to do the tasks, then they're not going to do the tasks.

So first, is she willing to do her regular tasks? The usual non-boring ones that you don't keep around as punishment for departing employees? If she's willing to contribute something of value to the company, then have her do those tasks, even if they're not the ones you want her to do. At least the company benefits that way.

Other excellent answers have suggested gardening leave or paying her to come to work and be idle—not ideal solutions but your constraints have foreclosed most of the other options. But there is one other option: provide an incentive to do the tasks. Right now, there's no incentive because the employee gets paid for the next two months no matter what. If you want to change that, provide an incentive.

Unless there's something else of value that she wants and you can provide, that incentive is probably going to need to be financial. Pay her more contingent on the tasks getting done. You'll want to work out a structure that is fair to both sides in this low-trust environment, so that she believes she'll be paid as promised if she does the work and that you won't be out much if you decide to terminate the arrangement because the work still doesn't get done or it's of poor quality.

It may well seem absurd to resort to paying an employee more to do something you already consider to be their job, but again, you've eliminated the other options already. And if the work is actually truly important to your company, then you'll have to pay someone if you want it done. Compared to hiring contractors, she already knows the office, understands the tasks, and may well be cheaper (because she's still getting her wages). And if you can't trust her to do the work well if you pay her more for it, then it seems you can't trust her to do the work at all, so it's futile anyway.

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  • I disagree about generalizing this. In a tight schedule, there can perfectly well be tasks that are boring and important, that get pushed back constantly because other things are more important. For software development, that could be documentation. Your code will be more understandable but it will not be something the customer will notice, so it is postponed because everyone is busy pushing features. So in this example the work is both menial and well within the job description. It's not a punishment at all but a good way to clean house without assigning sensitive tasks to a leaving employee. – Cerno Jul 4 at 15:34
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She doesn't want to be there and you don't really want her there. In fact she may have somewhere else she wants to be, such as another job that will start as soon as she is ready. Work out a compromise.

Start by simply offering to let her end her employment now instead of in six weeks time. That may be a good deal for her. If it isn't then sweeten the pot by offering a few weeks of payment in lieu. Somewhere in there you should be able to get her off your hands and save the company money.

If that fails then just send her on "gardening leave".

Get HR to do the negotiations, that's what they are there for.

EDIT: You write that you can't let the employee go or give her leave. You also write that "All the long pending tasks are generally carried out by departing employees". Presumably this means that the tasks are unimportant, because if an employee doesn't quit this means they won't get done. What it sounds like is that these are punishment tasks - tasks that the company doesn't care about, but are assigned to employees purely as retribution for them having done something wrong (like leaving). In that case you shouldn't care about them.

Since you don't care about the tasks (and they won't be done anyway), you can't fire her and can't send her home, your last remaining option is to simply ignore her. Let her come to work, and drink coffee, surf the internet or make paper planes. This may seem weird and bad, but you've exhausted your other options, and it was the company's policies that put you here. Time to move on and spend your days doing something that might benefit you or the company.

And if you actually care about the "pending" tasks, give them to someone who hasn't resigned and can be made to actually do them.

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  • I cannot give her early exit since it is highly discouraged by HR policies. Every other employee might follow this approach to get early exit. All the long pending tasks are generally carried out by departing employees. 2) I cannot give her free paid vacation for 3 months notice period. Again, bad example to all other employees. – namita Jul 1 at 19:39
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    I'll be honest - my sympathies are with the employee. If I were made to stay on at a job after I've transferred my knowledge and do crappy make-work tasks I would be pretty upset too. – DJClayworth Jul 1 at 21:32
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    Well, this is what the results of that "normal" policy look like. But the important question is - why is it done that way? Is it to punish employees for leaving? Because you think an employee is less important when they have resigned? – DJClayworth Jul 2 at 12:31
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    @DJClayworth It could be because small tasks that could be seen as "menial" include things like bug fixes and triage which are not long-tail tasks and are not likely to "accidentally" increase scope beyond the person's last day in the office. You wouldn't want to put someone on a project for 2 months only for that project to drift behind schedule and then the person is leaving in the middle of their project. It could also be to make that person's knowledge of critical systems somewhat obsolete when they leave so they don't take that proprietary knowledge to their next employer. – Ertai87 Jul 2 at 16:15
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    The reply to that comment shows that the long notice period isn't mandatory in this case. – DJClayworth Jul 2 at 17:03
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Welcome to the problem with excessively long notice periods (3 months) and why most other countries in the world don't have them. You have zero leverage over an employee who is on their notice period. It's like, if the employee doesn't do their work, what are you going to do, fire them? They've already quit! Meanwhile you are still contractually obligated to pay their salary and their benefits for that time; they get all the benefits and you get none. I would suggest you raise this concern as high in the company as you can to remove such long notice periods from your standard procedure. And yes I know it's common in your locale (India) but just because every other employer wants to jump off that bridge doesn't mean you have to also.

As for what to do about the current situation: I think you did all you could. The employee is leaving, and she has decided she's not working while she continues to take benefits and salary. You want to fire her to stop paying her these benefits, but HR has denied your request. So you've run out of things to threaten her with, and you are bureaucratically unable to get her off the team. That's basically as far as you can go. The rest is HR's problem.

What you should do now is:

  1. Lock her out of every system she has access to, to make sure she can't cause any damage.

  2. Find whatever way you can to keep her out of the office so she doesn't affect morale of the rest of the team.

  3. Continue working as normal.

If someone in authority comes to you and says "hey, where's Jane and what's she doing?" and wants to ask why she is collecting a paycheque for doing nothing, you should simply explain the situation: "Jane has left the company and has decided not to work anymore; HR is aware of the issue and has unfortunately, much to my chagrin and the chagrin of [my boss], decided they would rather not fire Jane for insubordination and so we are still paying her salary and benefits while she waits out her notice period".

One problem that might come out of this is that if other people are aware of what she did (is doing), they might try the same thing too: When they decide to quit, they will just collect 3 months worth of benefits and salary from the company "for free". Especially if the reasoning gets out, that this is because it was a female employee, I would expect every single female employee of your company to do the same thing, and I would expect the male employees to sue your pants off. The combination of a 3 month notice period plus not terminating the notice period for insubordination by specifically only female employees is a catastrophically bad idea from your HR department and someone with authority should be made aware of it as it could be seriously financially destructive for your company.

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How do I get the employee to take up the new tasks?

[from the comments] Departing employees need to do less interesting tasks.

Can you challenge that tradition?

Why not ask her if there's any useful task she would agree to take on for the remaining time? Unless she's been seriously offended by an attempt to fire her, she might still be willing to contribute something. So asking wouldn't hurt (more), and there's a chance she would tell.

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  • The problem seems to be that the "interesting" tasks are long-tail large project type tasks, and (with good reason) OP doesn't want to assign a long-tail task to an employee who is about to leave. The literal worst thing you can do is to have a project 2/3 completed when the only person who knows anything about that project walks out the door. – Ertai87 Jul 2 at 18:50
  • @Ertai87, I absolutely agree that assigning a new project to a soon-to-leave person isn't a good idea. I just assume (based on my industry) there are other interesting tasks a long-time employee can do. – Igor G Jul 2 at 19:45
  • That's a fair critique, but based on what the OP has said in various comments, that seems to not be the case. – Ertai87 Jul 2 at 20:37

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