Our previous two posts discussed the informal and formal process of progressive discipline, concluding with the formal written warning. If these steps have still not caused the desired changes in the employee’s behavior, a Final Warning is the next step you should take if the employee does not improve.
Finally, if all steps in your policy have failed, it is the time to consider termination. Some employees do not want to change, regardless of the opportunities presented to them. If you have gone through the steps and documented them well, you have helped to protect yourself against a charge of wrongful discharge.
Some violations are so serious you may skip these prior steps. Stealing, drunkenness, or workplace violence are not acceptable behavior and may justify immediate termination. However, make sure you investigate first. Sometimes situations are not what they appear.
In general, suspension is not well received and does not achieve the goal of encouraging an employee to modify their behavior. It is an intimidation tool and most people resent attempts to intimidate them. It tends to defeat the purpose of re-engaging and motivating an individual. This is a form of punishment that is reminiscent of high school detention. It humiliates employees, excessively disciplines them through their pay check.
The Five Questions
As we have stated on many occasions, the ultimate protection against an employee lawsuit is complete and accurate documentation. Arbitrators and unemployment counselors always ask certain, very specific questions. Therefore, every documentation, every warning, should always answer the following five questions:
- Did the employee clearly understand the rule or policy that was violated?
- Did the employee know in advance that such conduct would be subject to disciplinary action?
- Was the rule that was violated related to the safe, efficient and orderly operation of the organization?
- Is there substantial evidence that the employee did actually violate the rule?
- Is the planned disciplinary action reasonably related to:
- The seriousness of the offense
- The employee’s record with the organization?
- Disciplinary action taken with other employees who have committed similar offenses?
How can you prove the answers to those 5 very important questions? Documentation. It cannot be stated often enough how important the role of record keeping is when using a progressive discipline policy. If you don’t have a written warning form, get one. Always make sure the employee receives a copy. Be clear when telling the employee what rule was violated. Finally, all formal records should be kept in the employee’s personnel file for a predetermined period as defined by state and federal laws.
The purpose of discipline is to put the responsibility for resolving the problem into the employee’s hands, while emphasizing the seriousness of the violation and providing proof of this effort through documentation. The manager’s role is to encourage an employee’s self-discipline. The only way this can effectively be accomplished is to inform what is expected of the employee and in both verbal and written form, give the employee the company’s rules, regulations, procedures and policies. Disciplinary action is a last resort to modify an individual’s behavior.