Employee discipline isn’t a matter of dominance or punishment. It’s about making the work environment safe and pleasant for both employees and management. Discipline works best when there’s a foundation of trust between managers and employees. That starts with clear communication and continues through consistency. One of the most uncomfortable decisions that an employer ever has to make is to discipline or terminate an employee. No matter what anyone says it is always hard to take this step when you know that the employee has been part and parcel of the organization.
There are certain things that can potentially protect you from hiring a wrong hire which can save your time in disciplining employees like:
- Running background checks by hiring a professional background screening vendor;
- Conducting reference checks to look out for any behavioral issues of individuals in previous jobs;
- Deliberate on the way you set different rules and behavioral expectations in the employee handbook.
Certainly every time it is not possible to get the desired results even though you take all the necessary precautions available. This makes it imperative to have an effective employee discipline strategy that works as a backup in dire situations.
In order to maintain order and respect in the workplace, you need to have a plan in place that will benefit everyone involved. Try these steps to learn how to effectively discipline an employee:
1. Establish Clear and Documented Rules for Employees
It is very difficult to difficult to discipline an employee for any misconducts if you do not have any written rules documented. If you want to prevent certain behavior in the workplace, there needs to be a demarcation line drawn against it in the employee handbook. You can start by defining the different types of conducts like what your organization considers as sexual harassment, define policies for technology use in the organization like too much of mobile usage or browsing too many non-work related websites. Lay out your expectations in terms of timeliness and tardiness. Even if you feel that something is too obvious, have it documented in writing so that it becomes easier to take disciplinary action against any employee, if required
- Attire and dress codes are a common struggle for businesses, particularly when your workforce is made up of younger workers. Be clear about what is acceptable, but make sure you aren’t violating any discrimination laws.
- Behavior rules are tricky to define. They include how employees get along with coworkers, how they treat customers, discriminatory actions, appropriate use of language, and so on. Put in writing what you expect.
- Productivity and work ethic involves how much you expect an employee to do, and specific duties and benchmarks for specific jobs. You will also want to address tardiness.
- Mobile device usage has become so prevalent that it’s worth noting on its own instead of burying it in behavior codes. Be specific about what you allow and what is unacceptable.
- Illegal behavior, such as theft, illegal drug use, intoxication, or violence, are grounds for immediate termination, whether you use a progressive discipline process (see below) or not.
2. Consistent Enforcement of Rules
While drafting the strategy to ensure that you think hard about the rules that you want to enforce and the expectations of the employees. Then apply it consistently across your organization. Never ever discriminate between two employees even if one of them is a manager and the other one is a clerk. Remember, you cannot discipline an employee for doing something that the other employee has got away with for six straight months. For example; if you allow your manager to leave early by 10 minutes on a daily basis, you are setting a wrong example. Seeing him/her if a clerk decides to leave early by 10 minutes you cannot stop him/her from doing that. Remember, the rule should be followed the same way across the organization irrespective of the position held.
3. Follow Proper Escalation Protocols
Every employee disciplinary strategy needs to follow a process. You cannot simply jump to terminate an employee on their first violation. There needs to be an escalation process in place which needs to follow step-by-step. On the first behavioral violation, they need to be given an oral reminder or a reminder of the rules in place. If there are subsequent violations then they need to be given formal written warning, probation, suspension and then in the end termination.
4. Documentation and Keeping Track of all Disciplinary Actions Taken
Even if you give an informal reprimand it needs to be documented. You need to have a document or journal to track the number of violations made by an employee. Every entry needs to be specifically highlighting the date, the offense, and the type of warning given. You also need to record the justification given by the employee according to the nature of the offense. For example; in case of a strict late coming policy if an employee comes late on work due to accident or bad weather it needs to be recorded and kept in a ledger so that it becomes easier to take disciplinary action against the employee if the behavior is consistent for a regular period of time.
5. Documentation Should Be Done Without Any Prejudice
Never allow your emotions to get better of you or subjectivity to mar your documentation process. It is not advisable to speculate about the bad behavior of an employee or the reasons behind it by forming your own opinions that cloud the disciplinary process. Instead of that, document the facts in a clear and precise manner. These factual reports will protect your organization from the claims of discrimination, unfair treatment, and bias.
6. Be Rational While Taking Action on Serious Behavioral Offenses
Just because you need to be consistent does not mean that you need to follow the same disciplinary procedure every time. If an employee has made it a habit to come late on a daily basis and going home early it is suitable to give him/her a gentle oral warning. For far serious infractions like sexual harassment or showing up in the workplace in the influence of drugs makes it advisable for you to skip the gentle oral warning and move to formal documentation and punishment. This shows that your organization has zero tolerance for certain serious misbehaviors.
7. Give Employee a Chance to Respond
Irrespective of the reason for the employee to be disciplined – whether it is an oral warning, formal documentation or job suspension – give a chance to the employee to have their say. The employee might have a different perspective on the events that took place than the ones that are documented by other managers or employees. Give him/her a chance to respond to the documentation formally in writing. Once that has been done include the document in his/her personnel file along with the violation document.
8. Follow through on the Defined Disciplinary Strategy
Even if you have the most well-defined disciplinary strategy it will not be of much use if it lacks teeth. Once you have laid out the expectations and defined the consequences for an employee guilty of a rule violation, relevant action needs to be taken as per the strategy. If in case the disciplinary strategy says that future rule violation will lead to termination then you need to take the bold step when the employee violates the rules again. If you do not take the requisite step, no employee in the organization will follow the rules laid out in the employee discipline strategy seriously.
Employers are only human beings and do not like to discipline any employee. It is quite uncomfortable for them to reprimand and punish employees. But, when you know that if you let the bad employee behavior to continue and run rampant in the workplace it will damage your organization’s reputation, drafting an effective employee discipline strategy is the only resort left. By following the best practices mentioned in this blog, you will be able to draft an effective employee discipline strategy that will ensure that you have a healthy workplace which is free from any misbehavioral conduct.
cFIRST Think Tank is the team that researches and produces content for cFirst. This team comprises of seasoned content and digital design professionals and background screening industry veterans. Together we produce insightful blogs, infographics and reports meant for HR and background screening professionals.