Developing An Effective Employee Discipline Procedure Should Not Be Done In Haste.

If your company’s strategy is wrong you may be spending a lot of money defending a bad plan. So in this article we are going to look at a lot of things that should be considered before you simply choose a company discipline strategy.

Let’s talk about some things that every company should give thought to. Number one are you a large company or a small company. Believe it or not this will make a difference. In almost every aspect of company business a small company will conduct itself different than the large company. And if you are a union then the employee disciplinary actions will largely be established by the union contract.

If you are a larger company you will have to be how I can say this politically correct. A larger company will have a more extensive employee discipline policy compared to a smaller company. However big or small there are some foundational principles that will remain the small.

Size does not matter when it comes to having a good employee handbook that will spell out very clearly what you expect from your employees and what your employees can expect from the employer. The clearer your employee handbook is the less chance that there will be an employee discipline problem.

Developing a Proper Employee Discipline Platform

There are three foundational stones that every company must build their Employee Discipline Policy on.

1. Discipline
2. Documentation
3. A clear and concise employee handbook that explains company policies to the point of clarity.

Provided you have all of the above you will now have a proper foundation that you can build upon so that in the event your employee discipline procedures or practices are ever challenged you will have a solid platform that you can defend.
Let’s take a minute and talk about some of the most common areas where employees tend to violate company policy. As we address these you may want to ask yourself the question how well are these common issues spelled out in my employee handbook.

1. Employees tend to violate the company’s dress code
2. Poor Attendance is something that comes up on a regular basis
3. Excessive Tardiness
4. Insubordination
5. Harassment and Inappropriate Behavior

The reason to make sure that your employee discipline platform is solid is because more often than not the reason you will either win an employee lawsuit or lose on are the same. The deciding factor is documentation, either you have it or you don’t.
Every jury must have something that they can stand on because every jury must be able to justify why they went in the direction that they did. So if you can document, what you did and why you did it, the jury will be more favorable to decide in your favor.

Continuing to build on our Disciplinary Platform

Every employer should have established a firm Harassment which include a Sexual Harassment, and a Strong Anti-Hostile Work Environment Policy.  You will want to clearly communicate these polices to all employees at least annually.  You will also want to take the time to review your employee handbook annually as well.

In addition to that you will want to have your employee handbook review by either a Labor Law Attorney or a good Human Resource Consultant.  Laws may change and the last thing you want is to have your employee handbook out dated, or written in a way that will not protect your rights as an employer.

Discussing the different schools of employee discipline

Progressive Discipline:

Progressive Discipline is a very popular method of employee discipline that almost everyone has heard and almost every uses some form of this type of discipline in the workplace.  Progressive Discipline means that the company will start out very soft, perhaps a non- confrontational conversation with the employee discussing the area of the violation.
But remember, even though this is a non-threatening conversation the fact that you had this conversation should be documented.  Even this small step is still going to be considered the beginning of the company’s disciplinary actions that may lead to termination.  If the employee does not improve or change their course of action then the next step must be taken.

Every company should take the time to establish a management outline that will allow the management team to have some liberty in the disciplining of the employees that is supervised, but at the same time develop a company guideline that management can use to dispense  discipline one step at a time.  The benefit of this is that no matter how big or small a company maybe the employee discipline will be consistent throughout the company from employee to employee.  This manual would not be handed out to the employees but would be for the management team only.

A word to the wise as a general rule the discipline should not come as a surprise to the employee, and you don’t want it to be a surprise.  If it does come as a surprise you may want to check and see if you and your management team are following the company’s guideline on employee discipline.

Along these lines let’s keep it simple when the employee is in violation of a company policy or is simply not doing their jobs at an acceptable performance level take the time to start the progressive discipline policy.  Do not wait until you are dealing with several issues as my mother used to say let’s nip it in the bud.

Here is something to remember, in the early stages of the progressive disciplinary action you want it to more of a coaching situation, in this manner you are helping the employee to understand what they did wrong and you are trying to mentor them into becoming a good employee.

If that approach does not work than you progress to the next level documenting everything all along the way.  At the end of the day you may have to fire this employee.

The last step prior to termination when using a Progressive Disciplinary Action Policy

Alright we have now done all that we can do, and the employee has not changed.  Before we fire the employee we need to invite him/her to a Pre-Termination Meeting.  During this meeting will have the reasons for Termination and we will take some time going over them with the employee?  Do not rush this process and let the employee have a voice.

When the employee addresses these issues take your time and listen.  Does the employee have some valid points that may move you not to terminate him/her?  If the employee does then document those and work with the employee one more time.  While you want to listen to the employee you want them to know that should you not terminate them improvement must happen quickly.

Establishing your At-Will Status Correctly and using at-will as your termination procedure.

The definition of At-Will employment is the following.  Either party can terminate the relationship with or without cause.  And either party can do this with or without notice.

Usually it is the smaller companies that lean on the at-will status the most. And when smaller companies lean too heavily on this they end up losing their case in court.  Can you guess why that would be the case?  It is because they do not document, and they are lax in establishing company polices with clarity especially in the area of employee discipline.

So using at-will especially for a smaller company that has less than twenty employees may be alright you still do not want to short change your lines of defense which we have already discussed in the first part of this article.

So even if you are going to hang your hat on your at-will status you need to still take the time to develop a good employee handbook and you still need to document, and you still need to go over your polices with your employees annually.

The reason for documentation is twofold, number one the more often you can document the efforts that you have made to rehab the employee the better off you are.

But when you choose to use your at-will status to terminate your employee it is in your best interest to not disclose why you are letting them go.  The reason is this you are an at-will employer and you are choosing to exercise that right.  And then you tell the employee we are simply going in another direction and we wish you the best and want to thank you for your time with us. Here is your check.

Now the employee is going to ask at least twice why are you really letting me go?  Was it because of this, or because of that?  When this happens your answer must remain the same as it was when you started.

The reason that we said document even though you are using at-will as your employee discipline policy is this.  Should the employee decide to take you to court you still want to have a solid defense above and beyond your at-will status.  So that you can say in court yes we let the employee go because of at-will but we could have let them go for this or that.  Here is the steps that we took to rehabilitate the employee but at the end of the day we choose to us at-will which is our legal right.

So in conclusion, don’t forget document and discipline go hand in hand, and you are wise not to shortcut either.