Should employers require steps in the disciplinary action process? First, what is disciplinary action and what does it entail? Disciplinary action is the means of communicating corrective action to an employee whenever some type of workplace infraction has occurred. Usually managers make it harder than what it has to be. This could be for many reasons; some of which may include the discomfort of having to confront the worker, fear the worker may do or say something and the manager will not know how to respond or react; or perhaps the manager doesn’t want to take the time to find and replace a worker that needs replacing so they keep the employee longer than they should. Also, some managers may be under the impression they first must issue warnings before they can fire an employee. These are all valid concerns and most can effectively be addressed with training.
While there are many great places to work, ultimately a manager will be faced with having to impose some type of disciplinary action on a worker so it is important to understand the best practices. On occasion, an employee may violate a policy or workplace standard, display poor performance or misconduct. It could be worse, and some form of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, safety violation, or gross negligence and/or misconduct could have occurred. Unfortunately, disciplining employees is part of what supervisors and managers sometimes have to do. So, should there be steps? We said in the beginning that disciplinary action was a means to correct behavior or performance; to inform the employee of the minimal expectations for improvement so he/she has a chance to save his/her job. If we want to give chances, it seems logical to inform an employee this is his/her first strike; and sometimes second chances are warranted. However, some managers loosely say three strikes and you’re out; even going so far as to broadcast and put in written policies that an employee will first receive a verbal warning, then a written warning, and after three written warnings, they will be fired.
Having steps in the disciplinary action process is not a good idea because it takes away the employer’s authority to take appropriate action at its sole discretion, given the offense. How? Very simply, if an employer’s policies state an employee must receive three warnings before being fired, and some type of gross misconduct occurs, it will be more risky for the employer to fire that employee. It is much better for an Employee Discipline Policy to state the employer can take whatever disciplinary action it deems appropriate given the infraction. The types of disciplinary action include: verbal warning, written warning, suspension (paid or not paid) and termination but in no particular order. Implementing disciplinary action in this way, the employer can reduce liability associated with wrongful termination claims. It is then important to train managers on these practices and company policies.