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Whether it's deserved or not, the perception that management is "against" employees, once earned, is difficult to shake.

That's why it's vital for supervisors and HR to make sure all employees are treated fairly and consistently at all times, especially when it comes to discipline.

To make sure your disciplinary actions are fair, ask yourself the following questions before taking action against an employee:

1. Does the punishment fit the crime? Or is the employee being singled out?

2. Is the discipline consistent? How have you treated employees who have shown similar conduct in the past?

3. Has the discipline been administered after a proper investigation of the facts? (Be a neutral fact-finder until you gather all the facts.)

4. Is the discipline taken too quickly? Overly hasty discipline may be portrayed as "railroading" the employee.

5. Is the discipline confidential? It's important that you don't spread stories about why certain employees are being disciplined. Discuss disciplinary actions with other managers and staff on a need-to-know basis only.

7 tips for documenting employee discipline

The way in which HR or supervisors document an employee problem and disciplinary action can cause problems if an employee files a lawsuit. Follow these guidelines when documenting discipline:

1. Be consistent. Don't write up one person for a behavior that you ignore in other employees. When in doubt, check to see how similar problems have been documented in the past.

2. Be specific. Example of poor documentation: "Employee was late three times in the past month." Better: "Employee was 30 minutes late on Feb. 5; reason given: traffic. Employee was 45 minutes late on Feb. 9; reason given: overslept. Employee was an hour late on Feb. 23; reason given: car problems."

3. Write in a clear, factual manner. Note the policy or procedure that the employee has violated. Date the document, including the year.

4. Avoid emotional content, including personal impressions ("I think ..."), labels ("He's a whiner ..."), adjectives ("very unproductive ...") and drawing conclusions about the reasons for the employee's behavior. ("It's probably because of her divorce.")

5. State the consequences if the behavior continues. Example: "If the employee is tardy again this month, he will be fired."

6. Ask the employee to sign and date the document if it's going into his or her personnel file. If the employee refuses to sign, note that on the document.

7. Give employees an opportunity to respond in writing and include the response in their files.


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