Forming Discipline Policies
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed December 12, 2016
It is always a good idea for businesses to form solid discipline policies for their employees, and even more important to stick to them. Contrary to what many disgruntled employees think, managers and supervisors do not relish the idea of disciplining employeesy, even when it is needed. As a result, having a good discipline policy in place is an important tool to have available for your supervisors and managers to use.
Advantages of Having Good Discipline Policies
There are many benefits that come with having a well-formed and followed discipline policy, including:
- Giving employees a clear understanding of what is expected. When you have a clear discipline policy that is easy to understand, employees will have an easier time adapting their behavior to fit your company's needs. In addition, when you enforce your discipline policy, it will show your employees that the policy is not just a piece of paper on the wall.
- Generating good morale for the other employees. Although it is probably true that having one employee disciplined will not be a major morale boost for that employee, it can be a morale boost for all of your other employees. Generally speaking, employees do not like it when a co-worker gets away with coasting through work or engaging in disruptive and unproductive behavior. By enforcing your discipline policy, you will show your good employees that such behavior is not tolerated, and many of them will be appreciative of that message.
- Gaining protecting from employee lawsuits. When you have a clearly laid out discipline policy that explains the consequences of bad behavior to your employees, you will gain some insurance against future lawsuits. Former employees will have a harder time arguing that their termination was unjustified if you can show where their behavior violated a company policy and how your actions were in accord with the posted discipline policy.
Getting Your Discipline Policy in Writing
Perhaps the most important part of a good discipline policy is clearly communicating the policy to your employees. By having your discipline policy in writing, you give your employees clear notice of the consequences of violating company policies.
As an example, if the main thrust of your discipline policy is that of progressive discipline (where an employee will first receive warnings that later build to more serious consequences if the improper behavior continues), you should always reserve the right to immediately terminate an employee for particularly egregious conduct. In addition, you should try to avoid any language that could give employees the impression that they will not be fired unless they act in a specific way.
You want to keep much of the wording in your discipline policy general. You never know what kinds of behavior your employees will engage in. If you spend time to lay out specific punishments for specific behavior, your own carefulness may come back to haunt you in the end.
Tips on Giving the Bad News
If you have an employee that you know has seriously violated your company's policies, you will have to act upon those policies and hand out some sort of punishment. Here are some tips that you should follow:
- Don't delay. If you already know the discipline that is mandated by your discipline policy, there is no sense in beating around the bush. There is often never a "right time" to dispense discipline. In addition, the sooner that you can notify an employee of their discipline, the sooner that the employee knows to change or modify their behavior. Also, the sooner that you get it over with, the sooner you will know whether or not the employee is willing to change.
- Praise in public, discipline in private. One common mistake that many employees make is to discipline their employees in public. Instead, discipline should almost always take place behind closed doors. This prevents the employee from feeling ashamed and can also limit the office gossip.
- Honesty is king. Many employers often feel the need to soften the blow of discipline by telling the employee what a great job he or she is doing in other areas. However, now is not the time to give praise. Instead, be sure that your meeting is focused on the employee's bad behavior and how he or she can rectify the situation. Getting to the heart of the matter will solve more problems in the long run than if you sugar-coat it.
- Respect. Just like good news, bad news should be delivered to your employee with respect. When you set up a meeting, be sure that you have set aside enough time to deal with the situation fully. Ask your receptionist to take messages on all calls and not to disturb the meeting. When an open conversation is set up in a discipline meeting, problems are often revealed. Perhaps an employee's performance problem is instead a communication problem that originated from the top.
- Make a written record. Whenever you have a disciplinary meeting with any of your employees, you should make a written record of the meeting and place it in that employee's personnel file. If you give a written warning, be sure to give the employee a copy of the warning for their own records. If the employee later decides to file a lawsuit, these records can help your case.
- Always follow up. Many times discipline meetings end with you setting a deadline by which you expect to see improvement in your employee. If you set such a deadline, be sure to follow up with the employee and see if such improvement has occurred.
Getting Legal Advice
Employee discipline is never an easy topic. Making sure your discipline policies are clear and consistent is extremely important. Contact an employment law attorney now for help in creating good guidelines or for advice on how to protect your business from a lawsuit.
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