When and How to Discipline Employees

This HR expert offers advice on how to handle employee misconduct.

Provided by
HR Powerhouse

Gone are the days of arbitrary--a.k.a.inappropriate--discipline. Today's employers must implementconsistent and fair disciplinary policies, especially when it comesto dealing with terminations, or face an increase in unemploymentcosts and/or discrimination claims. Typically, employers most oftenuse disciplinary guidelines as a basis for handling employeemisconduct, such as insubordination. Initial performancedeficiencies, on the other hand, are usually best addressed withcoaching.

Understanding the difference between performance deficienciesand misconduct can help you understand which techniques to use tohandle each type of situation and will help you achieve betterresults. To avoid confusing the two, remember to addressperformance deficiencies, such as poor quality work or lowproduction output, through performance management, as these issuesreflect your business's core competencies, and addressimproper behavior with discipline, because it endangers yourbusiness's core values.

Performance management, counseling statements and coaching arethe preferred methods for addressing your initial problems with anemployee's performance deficiencies. If the deficienciescontinue, however, you may need to resort to disciplinary measuresas well.

The first step in addressing employee disciplinary problems isto review your company's disciplinary policy. If you don'thave one, this might be a good time to develop one. Yourcompany's prior practices in handling problems and complaintsare very helpful in figuring out what may be appropriate forcurrent or future situations. Also, with a formal policy in place,your company can re-emphasize its values and philosophies regardingemployee behavior and conduct.

Putting emotions and personality aside, enforcing a disciplinarypolicy fairly and equally minimizes problems and increases officemorale. An HR professional can act as an objective third party tohelp defuse emotional situations, as well as advise on correctivemeasures that are aligned with your business's philosophy,policy and the law.

As incidents arise, there will be questions to answer anddecisions to make. The first thing you need to consider is whetherthe incident is a minor issue, a first offense, or a repeat. Afirst-time, minor offense can be handled with a verbal warning or awritten counseling statement. Beyond this, an HR professional oremployment attorney, who can both offer a legal perspective ondisciplinary issues, should be consulted to determine the beststrategy for settling the situation, which could mean a writtencounseling statement, suspension or possibly termination.

If and when the time comes for a face-to-face sit-down with theemployee, you should be supportive and non-confrontational, withspecific objectives and deadlines outlined for correcting thesituation. It might be a good idea to have a third, non-involvedperson present as a potential witness in case the situation leadsto legal action. Set dates and times for follow-up meetings, andcontinue meeting until the issue's been resolved. Be sure tosupply the person or persons handling HR for your company with allrelated documentation.

The keys to successful employee discipline are:

  • notifying employees of company policies

  • treating every employee in the same manner

  • good documentation

  • putting the employee on notice of the inappropriate conductthrough a verbal or written counseling statement

  • addressing infractions properly and timely, rather than lettingthem grow into bigger issues

Remember, your goal is a productive, happy staff that will helpyou succeed.


Mary Massad is the director of HR product development forAdministaff, a leading personnel management companythat serves as a full-service human resources department forthousands of small and medium-sized businesses throughout theUnited States. For additional HR information, visit HR PowerHouse, anHR website powered by Administaff.

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