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How to Legally Discipline an Employee

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 02, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You got your employees in the office, so now how do you keep them in line? You'd hope that the interview process would've weeded out any bad apples, but even a good egg can have a bad day. So how do you punish a misbehaving employee without incurring his or her legal wrath?

Here's how to discipline employees, legally, from personnel policies to social media suspensions.

Fines and Fees

It seems like an easy idea: if an employee is responsible for breaking something or consumer theft, just make them reimburse the company, right? Not so fast, my friend. While federal labor law allows employers to deduct losses from employee paychecks (so long as employee's wage doesn't fall below the mandatory federal minimum), some state statutes are a little more strict on the matter. For example, California's Labor Code prohibits employers from docking an employee's pay because of a shortage or breakage.

Suspended Sentence

Maybe you think an unruly employee just needs to take a little time to think about what he's done. But did he have notice that he could be suspended? Is the suspension unpaid? And for how long? In order to keep an employee suspension legal, you should provide a clear and concise discipline policy and avoid unpaid or indefinite suspensions, which could be seen as firings and open your small business up to a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Not So Socially Acceptable

In this day and age, it's nearly impossible to keep your employees off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever else will pop up tomorrow. In some cases, you might not want to -- having employees share positive stories from your small biz can be a bit of free advertising. In some cases, on the other hand, it may be illegal -- firing workers for disparaging Tweets can violate the National Labor Relations Act. As with suspensions, make sure you start with a legal social media policy, educate your employees, and protect them and your customers.

Data Detention

Cybersecurity isn't just for big tech companies anymore. Businesses small and large need to protect their data, whether it be customer information or proprietary technology. And while it might seem easy to just fire an employee for data theft, the law might be a bit more complicated, especially if it's a former employee doing the thieving.

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