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Discipline of employees is sometimes necessary to:

  • Stop unacceptable behavior
  • Correct performance
  • Keep the employee as a respected and productive member of the workforce
  • Be fair, equal, and justified in your treatment of all your employees with regards to unacceptable behavior or performance in the workplace

Progressive discipline means taking increasingly serious measures against an employee and documenting each step in the employee’s personnel file. This documentation shows an effort on your company’s part to correct problems and can provide you with a defense and evidence if the employee brings a wrongful dismissal charge against your company.

Discipline Step Process

Most companies follow a “step process;” however, sometimes a violation is so severe that one or more of the steps is skipped. The steps in this process are:

Oral warning – Use this as a first step in noticing or correcting a behavioural or other work-related minor problem.

Written warning – Written warnings should be clear about the expected change, the time frame for change, and what will happen if the warning is not heeded. The employee must sign the warning, acknowledging that it has been reviewed with them. The warning is then kept in the employee’s personnel file.

Suspension without pay – If written warnings did not work, or the employee has committed severe infractions, suspensions can be used. Generally, suspensions are used as a last chance for employees with disciplinary problems, and do not work well for problems stemming from lack of skill. When issuing a suspension, make sure you have it written out with the reason and length of suspension.

If you are issuing an immediate suspension orally (outside of a disciplinary meeting), write it up as quickly as possible. Always have security or management on hand to escort the employee from the building if necessary.

Demotion – Some employers use demotion for infractions based on performance problems, not behavioral problems. Demotions can be immediate but generally follow a short suspension. Employers should not take demotions lightly, and should hand them out only during a private meeting

Termination of employment – The final step in progressive discipline is the termination of employment. Before terminating an employee, review the personnel file including all disciplinary action. Make sure you have followed through with all the steps and stuck to the deadlines. Make sure all other options have been taken or explored for the employee. Consult with an employment lawyer or experienced HR practitioner to ensure you have followed the proper procedure. Write a letter of discharge and prepare the employee’s final pay cheque, including any outstanding vacation pay.

Tips on Developing Discipline Programs

Tips on Developing Discipline Programs for Your Company

Don’t wait until you have a problem to plan your progressive discipline program! Having a pre-defined process for discipline will help your company have a more desirable outcome when dealing with an unpleasant workplace issue.

The following tips should help:

  • Make sure that employees receive, read and sign a copy of your company’s rules and policies. Put the signed copies in their personnel files.
  • Keep your expectations about job performance and duties known to your employees. Manage performance on a daily basis, and conduct regular performance reviews.
  • Start a process to correct behavior as soon as the problem or behaviour occurs. Do not “let this one slide.”
  • Apply your discipline process fairly and objectively.
  • Be clear about the problem. Investigate the incident or situation before making a judgment or starting a discipline process.
  • Don’t use this process to avoid termination for cause! If the offense has been identified in your company policies as one for which an employee will face termination, using a disciplinary process will undermine the credibility of your company and set an unfavorable precedent.
  • Inform employees why they are being disciplined and give them opportunities to respond to the problem.
  • Document all disciplinary actions, whether oral or written.
  • Have employees sign the disciplinary documents and keep a copy in their files.
  • Be well prepared for all disciplinary interviews in advance and bring the documentation to the interview.
  • Hold all disciplinary discussions in private, preferably with the employee and the direct supervisor.
  • For all stages of progressive discipline, be sure to identify what the problem is, why it is a problem, what the desired performance or behaviour is, and what will happen if the performance or behavior is not corrected in the time allotted.
  • Be specific and factual – record details such as times, dates, names, places, problem descriptions, actions agreed upon, and the date and time for a follow-up. Specific statements are easier to prove if the employee disputes the claim.
  • Describe the events as they happen and back up conclusions with your observations and the observations of other employees, if possible.
  • Be cool and calm – do not let anger or frustration come across in your discussions or your documentation. Be as objective and factual as possible.