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Probationary employee acting without authority

I have a young employee, a new-hire fresh graduate who is such an eager beaver that he ends up doing a lot of things outside of his authority and job description. Yesterday, he allowed two of our student-trainees to bring home company-owned laptops so they can continue working at home. Three weeks previously I had spoken to him about such lapses. He told me he wants to be empowered in order to exceed my job expectations. How do I manage this person? — North Star.

Employee empowerment is not absolute. Management must draw the line between the things that can and cannot be done by employees, regardless of their work experience, educational orientation and background. In many organizations even management has limited authority. They can’t simply make decisions on some things.

Even more so if they’re new to the organization and lack the expertise to make sound decisions. In your case, company laptops must be secured at all times and must not be brought out of the office without authorization. This policy applies to the contents of the laptops, whose loss could compromise trade secrets.

The laptops could also be stolen by student-trainees or anyone they meet on the road if they use public transport.

There’s nothing wrong with empowering people — it has many advantages. One of them is giving workers the chance to identify issues and solve them. Another is that it frees up management from focusing on mundane issues. A third is that it motivates ordinary employees to work on challenging assignments. However, these are subject to limitations, especially if the employee has not passed his probationary period.

You have reasonable grounds to be concerned about this. If anything bad happens, you can’t wash your hands of any responsibility because of command responsibility.

THREE CURESThe motivation of your newly hired worker is admirable, except that it is misplaced at this point. He has not yet passed probation and has not paid sufficient dues to be considered empowered. You’ve already spoken to him about similar incidents in the past, but this time, an informal talk may not be the right option for you.

What could possibly work with him? Explore the following:

One, allow the employee to understand the folly of his actions. This requires an enormous amount of tact. Start by asking him how he would deal with situations like the loss or damage to the laptops. How would he recover from such losses or damage? What’s the basis of his perceived “authority?”

In the first place, what are those tasks that can’t be completed during normal office hours by student-trainees? Are they allowed by the university or college that sent them to work as on-the-job trainees?

Further, in almost all organizations, laptops can’t be brought out of company premises without the benefit of a gate pass signed by a competent authority. In that case, who issued the gate pass? If an unauthorized employee signed the gate pass, why was it allowed by security? This question could open a can of worms.

Two, ask the employee to explain himself in writing. After your previous conversations, the time has come for you to issue a Notice to Explain (NTE) memo that lists specific provisions of your company’s code of conduct. If you can’t find any such policy, your best recourse is the Labor Code, Criminal Code, Civil Code or any Supreme Court decisions that you can use to justify your inquiry.

Generally, however, the best argument is to tell him that employers are still liable even if the worker is not authorized. This is the essence of “vicarious liability,” a legal doctrine that allows another person to be charged with the unlawful act or omission of another, unless the former has proven that it had exercised due diligence.

“Vicarious liability” is more or less similar to another legal doctrine called “respondeat superior” — both Latin words translated to mean “the master must answer” for any loss or damage done by the “slave.” In other words, that presumes the negligence of a worker is also presumed to be the negligence of the employer.

Last, emphasize the worker’s limited or zero authority. It’s prudent to categorically state that the worker does not possess any authority to make such decisions without prior verbal or written approval. You can amplify this by discussing office protocols and other administrative guidelines.

Related to this is the principle of chain of command that requires every worker to report and direct any communication to his line leader, supervisor, manager or boss unless there’s a clear emergency that could warrant the bypass.

Nevertheless, create every opportunity to engage your worker by discussing his personal interests and goals, at least in areas where you have the power to further his career. The worker may be tempted to argue about empowerment. If that happens, steer the person away from his interpretation of what an empowered employee should be.

Bring Rey Elbo’s popular leadership program called “Superior Subordinate Supervision” to your line leaders or chat with him via Facebook or LinkedIn or e-mail or via

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