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Innovation@work: From Entrepreneur to Boss – Employee Discipline


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Innovation@work: From Entrepreneur to Boss – Employee Discipline

By: Hilary Holmes Rheaume

Generally, every employee strives to be productive and successful in the workplace. At times, an employee may engage in conduct that requires correction, such as poor performance, a policy violation, inappropriate conduct, or unlawful activity. In the event of such a situation, your company’s policies concerning employee discipline will be crucial. As a result, you should ensure that your company’s policies concerning employee discipline incorporate the following best practices:

  • Keep the policies simple
  • Ensure the policies are realistic
  • Ensure the policies are relevant to the day-to-day operations of the company
  • The policies should be supported by a legitimate business purpose
  • The policies should be consistent with other company policies
  • The policies should be current
  • The policies should have an acknowledgement form for an employee’s signature

There may be times when the company needs to modify the disciplinary process for a specific situation. You should consider including a sentence in your discipline policy that provides the company with discretion to skip, repeat, or modify disciplinary procedures at its discretion.

Additionally, it is important that the company provide employees with a written copy of the discipline policy. The company should also keep copies of the policy in an accessible location, so employees can have access to the policy upon request.

You might be wondering about the various types of employee discipline to include in a written policy. Here are a few options for you to consider (in ascending order of severity):

  • Verbal counseling: Generally, verbal counseling serves as an introductory step for a minor issue, such as tardiness.
  • Written warning: A written warning serves as a more serious step to inform the employee that s/he must take meaningful steps toward correcting the problem to avoid additional corrective action.
  • Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”): A PIP is a tool to help an employee correct poor performance.  Generally, a manager or supervisor will outline the employee’s performance that needs improvement with or without employee input.  The employee will then have a certain amount of time to improve performance based on the information in the PIP.
  • Suspension: A suspension is a serious disciplinary measure that should be used sparingly.  Generally, suspensions are used when there is a discipline issue that creates the need for an internal investigation or jeopardizes the safety of others.
  • Termination: Termination is an extreme disciplinary measure that should be reserved for the most serious situations. We recommend seeking the advice of counsel before terminating an employee.

The information in this post is intended to provide an overview of certain employee discipline policies and procedures, and it is not intended to be a comprehensive list. I recommend seeking advice of counsel to discuss certain issues that may increase liability for your business, such as terminating an employee.

I will be back next month to discuss record keeping requirements. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any questions: hrheaume@bernsteinshur.com.

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