Quick Guide to Employee Discipline: 7 Steps for Managers
Administering employee discipline is one of the most difficult, and certainly one of the least rewarding components of any manager’s or human resources professional’s job. Yet a fair and consistently applied disciplinary process is important to employee satisfaction, productivity and retention. In addition, it can help avoid lawsuits in the future. In meting out discipline, employers should be mindful of the following:
1. Be accurate
If there is a Company policy or practice that applies to the situation at issue, review it and follow it. If you are going to deviate from a written policy or established practices, you must have a good business reason for doing so.
2. Be informed
If you do not have all of the facts needed to make an informed decision regarding discipline, conduct an investigation.
3. Be fair
Review the employee’s prior disciplinary action and ensure that the contemplated punishment is appropriate for the offense.
4. Be consistent
Make sure this employee is receiving the same treatment others have received under the same or similar circumstances.
5. Be complete
Document everything, including all meetings and conversations with the employee regarding disciplinary matters. No exceptions.
6. Be explicit
In documenting the discipline, identify the problem in detail. Use specific examples and avoid general statements. For example, instead of writing, “Joe is always late,” write, “Joe has been more than 15 minutes late for his shift four times in the last four weeks.” Explain to the employee why the action is being taken and, if appropriate, what the expectations are for the future.
7. Be aware of all potentially relevant information
Before instituting any discipline – including termination – the employer should ask if the employee’s protected status (age, race, gender, disability, etc.) or recent protected activity arguably had anything to do with the decision, or whether the employee could allege that it did. Protected activity would include requesting or taking leave, requesting an accommodation or raising a complaint of discrimination or harassment.
Employers should consult with experienced human resources professionals and/or labor and employment counsel when in doubt about the appropriate course of action. For MEA members, the Hotline and a Member Legal Services attorney are available to provide this assistance.