Each situation requiring employee discipline is unique. However, the following guidelines will help employers ensure that discipline is meted out fairly and properly:
1. Act timely
- When information comes to your attention indicating that misconduct may have occurred, you should act promptly. You should begin to investigate the situation, and possibly even suspend the employee involved pending the investigation, immediately.
- If management delays in taking action, it may be found to have condoned or tolerated the misconduct, and may thereby lose its ability to administer effective, and necessary, discipline. If there is delay, a potential plaintiff may also contend that the misconduct was not sufficiently serious to warrant discipline, because if it was so serious management would not have waited so long to take action.
2. Know the Company’s Rules of Conduct, Policies, and Practices
- Obviously, in order to determine whether misconduct has occurred and to determine whether discipline is warranted, you need to know the applicable policies and rules.
3. Investigate, Investigate, Investigate
- It is critical that all of the relevant facts be obtained before making a decision as to what discipline, if any, should be meted out. Making such decisions based upon incomplete facts is not fair to the employee involved, co-workers, or the Company.
- Good, thorough investigations are also an important element in prevailing in lawsuits concerning discipline.
4. Give the Accused Employee a Chance to Tell His/Her Story
- Before deciding what discipline, if any, to impose, give the employee under investigation a chance to give his/her version of the events.
- This should be done even when you believe there is nothing the employee can tell you that would affect the outcome. Talking to the employee insures that a fair investigation has been conducted and that all facts and viewpoints have been obtained.
5. Be Consistent in Determining the Appropriate Discipline to be Imposed
- You should be consistent in the discipline that is used. This means that similar situations should result in similar discipline. However, situations which on the surface appear to be similar often turn out not to be when all the details are known. Again, this is why a careful, thorough investigation is so important.
6. Inform Employee of What Will Happen if Further Misconduct Occurs
- With respect to discipline for future misconduct, generally it is appropriate to say something like the following: “Any future misconduct on your part will result in further discipline, including possibly discharge.”
7. Document Warning and Disciplinary Discussions
- You should note who was present during the discussion, when it occurred, and summarize what was said. This written record of the discussion should be made on the same day it occurs.
- Such documentation will, if necessary, enable the Company to show that the employee was specifically informed as to what was expected of him/her and what the consequences would be if the employee failed to meet the Company’s expectations.