Q. I'm the HR director, and our discipline policy is very complicated and has several different categories of offenses. It says that if employees commit offenses that may result in suspensions of more than three days, employees are allowed a pre-disciplinary counseling conference. Now, my manager thinks that conference should be skipped if the employee has already been counseled for a prior offense in the past 12 months. I'm concerned that this deviates from our policy. Can we do this? —S.D., Illinois
A. While every business needs to implement a disciplinary policy that's tailored to its needs, I frown upon overly complicated disciplinary policies that attempt to categorize every conceivable type of misconduct. The best disciplinary policies are more general in nature.
Disciplinary policies should include a specific disclaimer stating that the policy is not intended to be exhaustive, and that the employer reserves the right to deviate from the progressive disciplinary schedule at any time to implement whatever level of discipline it believes is appropriate under the specific circumstances presented.
In your case, if you deviate from a poorly drafted, overly restrictive disciplinary policy, you may face liability for discrimination and/or breach of contract claims.
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