How to Manage Employees That Overstep Boundaries


When an employee oversteps boundaries, he often puts others in awkward positions. Overstepping boundaries might include reading confidential paperwork, asking employees overly personal questions or usurping the supervisor's authority. When employees purposely and repeatedly overstep professional and personal boundaries, it can lead to poor morale if not immediately addressed. Define your workplace boundaries so that employees understand what the company considers appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior. This way, you're better able to effectively deal with employees who overstep them and correct the situation.

Private Discussion

  • Avoid public reprimands -- counsel employees in private when they engage in behavior or actions that cross the line. Call the employee into your office, describe your observations and the problem before you ask the employee to explain his actions. Ensure the employee understands the company's rules and practices before you administer any kind of disciplinary action. Clarify the employee's job description, workplace rules and policies, as well as frequently observed practices, such as maintaining professional distance with colleagues and supervisors.

Mutual Agreement

  • Ask the employee what impact he thinks his behavior may be having on others so he will understand why there is a problem. Employee change will not occur unless a disciplined employee agrees to a different course of action. Ask the employee what he will do differently to avoid overstepping boundaries, This is important to clarify and agree upon because what an employee thinks is overstepping may not be what his supervisor thinks.


  • Schedule a date to follow-up any disciplinary action taken to correct the employee's behavior. Corrective action should match the seriousness of the behavior. For example, if an employee refers to a company executive by a shortened, familiar version of his first name, corrective action should start with a discussion on proper ways to address higher ups. You needn't terminate someone for calling the company president, Ms. Susan Johnson, a nickname like Susie, unless the employee has permission to do so. Observe the employee's behavior after you administer disciplinary action so you'll have concrete feedback during your next meeting.


  • If an employee continues to overstep boundaries, sit the employee down and tell him the problem is still occurring. The employee should be aware of the consequences of his actions and accept responsibility for his behavior. If you find the employee simply refuses to conform to company standards, remind him that stronger measures can be taken, up to and including suspension or termination. When there are egregious violations of personal or professional boundaries, the employee could be heading down the path to termination.


  • At the end of every meeting with the employee, document the conversation and the outcome. This facilitates an easier, more factual follow-up session should the behavior continue. For formal documentation, sign and date the summary of events and disciplinary action and request the employee's signature as mutual agreement that his behavior was adequately addressed. Provide a copy of the documentation to the employee and place the original document in his employment file.

Follow Up

  • When an employee corrects his behavior or rectifies the situation, follow up and acknowledge his work at correcting the problem. You needn't praise him for simply doing what he was supposed to do anyway, but express appreciation for his conscientiousness in ensuring that he doesn't cross professional or personal boundaries in the workplace.


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