Employee discipline and documentation are two concepts that go hand-in-hand. In fact, it’s kind of a chicken and the egg scenario — which comes first? To discipline an employee, supervisors should have well-prepared documentation to back up any such employment action decision. But to have good documentation, supervisors need a well-crafted disciplinary policy to enforce.
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Some of the most common problems at work that require discipline include dress code violations, poor attendance, and inappropriate or offensive behavior, such as harassment or discrimination. Human resources professionals should at least develop a plan for how to address on the front-end the most common disciplinary infractions.
Employment lawyers agree that more cases are won and lost because of documentation than any other factor. Why? Because juries like to have something to hang their hats on when making decisions. For example, an employee who is fired for coming in late every day for three months might win her lawsuit if the supervisor never documented the fact that she was late and gave her satisfactory ratings for punctuality on her performance evaluation.
Employee discipline basics
The first step to keeping employee discipline problems to a minimum is making sure that the ground rules are clearly communicated to employees. In addition to a clearly communicated disciplinary policy, employers should have a prohibition against discrimination and harassment in their workplaces, as those policies are the bedrock of any internal investigation.
The employee discipline policy must be communicated to employees by periodically providing a copy to each employee, posting it, or including it in an employee handbook. Employees should be required to sign an acknowledgment that they have received and read the policy.The policy also should be covered in new employee orientation.
Basic Training for Supervisors – easy-to-read training guides, including discipline
Employee disciplinary systems
There are many systems available for disciplining employees. One system, called progressive discipline, is very popular in the labor union context. It requires the employer to progress through each step before proceeding to the next. This can be very limiting. Frequently, the facts and circumstances of a situation warrant a different type of discipline. It is better for employers to craft a system that ensures managers and supervisors have the flexibility to administer verbal warnings, suspensions, or terminations based on the seriousness of the particular incident in question, regardless of the employee’s prior disciplinary history.
HR Guide to Employment Law: A practical compliance reference manual covering 14 topics, including discipline