Like most bosses, you would probably be angry if you heard about such a vicious comment. But Laura went one step further: She wrote up the employee for insubordination. Only later did she talk to the employee, determine what was really said and take steps to improve their working relationship.
Whenever you discipline an employee in writing, you’re adding a permanent stain to the individual’s personnel file. It’s a wise move when other steps fail because it underscores the seriousness of the employee’s behavior. But if you rush to write up staffers, the cost in ill will and distrust may outweigh the benefits.
Here are two tests to tell if it’s smart to discipline in writing:
Did you discuss it first? Laura was so furious that she failed to confront the employee and say, “Do you have a beef with me?” She assumed that what she heard through the grapevine was true, and she acted accordingly.
You will need to meet with the employee at some point, so you might as well talk over the problem before you commit to writing. Through a face-toface discussion, you may gather information that can help you draw a more accurate conclusion.
Are the facts clear? If everyone agrees on the events in question—and those events obviously violated your company’s policies—then a written memo makes sense. If you have evidence that proves what happened, such as a video camera showing a theft, that’s ironclad.
But in many cases, facts remain in dispute. No matter how carefully you investigate, you may wind up unsure of whom to believe.
Don’t make a final decision about writing up an employee until you remove all ambiguities and confirm the accuracy of what occurred. If that’s impossible, you can still come down hard on a presumably guilty individual by orally reinforcing the desired behavior.
Remember: Once you write a disciplinary memo, you commit to a certain position based on your understanding of the facts. Your credibility’s on the line, so make sure you’re right.
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