Out-of-control caretaker

M.H. writes:

Dear Paul:

We have had our “caretaker” now for 10 years.  After about year 4, he started to become arrogant and not fulfilling his duties. He does not like being told what to do.   His interactions with management, board members, and owners are very unprofessional to the point of being rude.  I have witnessed him call one of our property managers a liar and has brought them to tears.  He has pulled our board secretary from the multi-purpose room by the scruff of her neck to bring her attention to a matter. In one incident an owner and the caretaker almost came to fisticuffs. The various boards and management have been very tolerant of this behaviour.  This caretaker will be retiring in several months.  How would you suggest preventing this issue from occurring in another condominium?  I thank you very much for Paul’s Condo Corner and the invaluable advice/opinion/remarks that you provide us.

Paul replies:

Dear M.H.:

You describe a very bad situation mostly caused by the inaction of your board. I assume that the caretaker is an employee. As an employee, he should be directed by the board or the property manager (PM) if that responsibility was delegated to the PM by the board. Six years ago, when his behaviour became unacceptable, the first step would have been to immediately document the events and bring to his attention in writing that if his behaviour did not change, it would lead to the termination of his employment. The board’s failure to act at the onset probably signaled to him that his conduct was satisfactory. Insubordination, lack of respect, unprofessionalism, and rudeness was more than tolerated, it was accepted as being. If, as you say he grabbed your board secretary “by the scruff of her neck” (touching her) this action could be characterized as an assault under the criminal code (the police could verify whether this is correct).  

How could you avoid this in the future?

  1. Have a well-drafted letter of employment which would include a clause identifying how the individual’s employment could be terminated for cause;
  2. Have a job description that outlines the worker’s duties, and expected behaviour in interactions with the board, the PM, the unit owners, visitors and contractors;
  3. Develop a process to evaluate the worker’s performance and bring any problems to their attention in writing with an expectation of improvement within a short period of time;
  4. If there is no improvement, depending on the severity of the conduct, proceed to a second written warning followed by termination if there is no change;

You may want to consult a labour relations specialist to help develop this process.

What can you do immediately?

  1. Evaluate his performance and bring issues to his attention in writing;
  2. If there is no change, provided you have enough evidence, proceed to immediate termination.

The fact that the person may or may not retire in several months is irrelevant. Unacceptable behaviour is unacceptable at any age. Remember that under human rights legislation an individual cannot be forced to retire. However, employment can be terminated for good reason. If the situation continues, it is by the misguided goodness of your board failing in its duties to ensure all unit owners can enjoy living in a safe, peaceful environment. Good luck!

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