You probably have specific rules that spell out discipline for common violations. That doesn’t mean you can’t tailor the punishment to each individual situation. The key is to document the details that justify why one employee who broke a rule was punished more harshly than someone else who broke the same rule.
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Sometimes, it looks like an employee has been performing just fine—until someone discovers that her work was really subpar all along. Before you discipline or fire the worker, document what you discovered (and when) so you can explain away prior good performance reviews.
While you may not want to share the information with your employees as you prepare for a reduction in force, be sure to document the reasons. That’s especially true if the underlying reasons are monetary—that you simply can’t afford to employ as many people as you have in the past.