Best Practice: Handling Employee Discipline

While employers like to be able to meet out discipline where necessary, many are not aware that there are certain considerations which need be taken into account before doing so. The most important aspect of discipline is that it be consistent, fair and reasonably related to the offense committed by the employee. To assist in accomplishing this, enumerated below is a list of questions which each manager should be able to answer prior to disciplining an employee.

  1. Was there a rule, order, procedure or known performance behavior expectation (a “workplace rule or order”)?
  2. Was the employee aware of the workplace rule or order?
  3. Has the workplace rule or order been enforced in the past?
  4. Was the employee forewarned of possible consequences of his/her conduct?
  5. Before administering discipline, was an effort made to discover whether the employee did, in fact, violate or disobey the workplace rule or order?
  6. Was the investigation conducted fairly and objectively?
  7. In the investigation, was sufficient evidence obtained against the employee to prove “guilt”?
  8. Has the workplace rule or order been enforced consistently and without discrimination?
  9. Is the workplace rule or order reasonably related to the operation of business? Is the penalty appropriate to the offense?
  10. Are there other employees with records of worse offenses who are on a lower level of the disciplinary process?

The answer to all questions except number 10 must be “YES” and the answer to number 10 must be “NO” before one disciplines an employee. In fact, if an employee, or ex-employee as the case may be, should file for unemployment or a fair employment practices charge with a state or federal agency, these are the questions that the government officials will ask to determine the validity of the employer’s defense.

It’s best to be prepared and follow these guidelines as a matter of course. Not only will you achieve treating all your employees fairly and consistently, but your employees will be happier in a workplace where they are able to anticipate the potential consequences for their actions.

Part of this article was reprinted with permission of Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates, Inc.

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