Discipline meetings: 4 tips for doing them right

If they’re doing their jobs, HR and managers must periodically have “the talk” with problem employees. How this meeting is conducted can mean the difference between turning around a marginal employee and opening the organization to costly litigation.

Here are four points to remember to keep that meeting productive and legally safe:

1. Leave biases at the door. If you don’t get along with an employee, don’t let that influence how you choose to discipline him or her.

2. Have pen in hand. Be ready to document the meeting.

You’ll want to document the reason for the meeting, the fact that the employee was present at the meeting, what was discussed and what was agreed upon.

Having an employee sign such documentation is not absolutely necessary; having the documentation itself is often enough to survive jury scrutiny.

3. Avoid using a parental tone. The last thing you want to do is come across as though you are scolding a child. Stick to addressing the issue at hand in a way that is not condescending to the employee.

4. Beware sugarcoating your words. When dealing with conduct-based discipline, focus on the poor conduct and impending discipline. Employees often have selective hearing, and if you try to cushion the blow with a lot of positive reinforcement, they may try to throw it back in your face months later and claim that you never told them there was a problem.