Disciplinary Action

What is a Disciplinary Action?

Disciplinary action means responding to an employee’s misconduct, unsatisfactory performance, and breaking of rules at work. It aims to correct the behavior, not punish them. Employees may receive a verbal or written reprimand, but employers may adopt other actions to correct behavior. If the action taken against the employee is unfair or made wrongly, he has the right to appeal against the decision made by the HR or supervisor.

Although a disciplinary action’s main objective is to correct behavior, it can also be challenging sometimes. Adequate training is required in advance to handle such matters and employers will have to document each incident which can be a time-consuming process. Organizations with limited resources may find this more challenging. Smaller organizations tend to avoid following any steps and instead terminate employees who violate any rule. A disciplinary action policy can be impractical for some organizations to implement. Companies that do implement this policy follow certain steps before terminating an employee.

List of Disciplinary Actions Procedure

A disciplinary action resolves unacceptable behavior or poor performance. In case of poor or unsatisfactory performance at work, organizations design a document that outlines the PIP (Performance Improvement Plan). In such cases, the plan has certain steps that must be taken. It may vary from organization to organization, but some common steps include setting clear, measurable goals, linking them with roles and job descriptions, stating the expectations, and the level of support required.

For misconduct or continued misbehavior, the steps taken are:

1. A Verbal warning

A verbal warning is the initial response of an employer toward an employee’s performance or behavior. It is generally given because of a first or minor violation. The employer notifies that in the unlikely event the employee does not change or improve, the organization may take severe actions. Employers should take time explaining why and how the policy was violated or the performance was poor, and so on. Corrective actions should also be explained to the employee.

2. A written reprimand

When verbal warnings prove to be unsuccessful, the second step is a written reprimand issued to the employee. It is documented by an immediate supervisor or manager and is placed in an employee’s file – making it a part of the employee’s permanent record. This document describes why the actions or behavior of the employee are unacceptable and what he can do to produce desired outcomes. Employees are expected to go through the form and sign it.

3. Disciplinary meeting

The HR, supervisor, and other representatives may meet to discuss the problem. In this discussion, the allegations made against the employee are supported with evidence. Employees may support their own case by providing some evidence. The possible implications and actions that will be taken against the employee are also discussed in the meeting.

It is important to note that disciplinary action cannot be taken before arranging a meeting with the employee to discuss the problem; however, this depends on the country and policy designed. Such meetings are often referred to as ‘hearing.’

4. Suspension

After the employer decides on the necessary disciplinary action, he may choose to suspend the employee. The suspension could be with or without pay. Suspension without pay is severe and is only implemented when the employee fails to take corrective action, even after multiple warnings. It is used for severe cases like violence or theft at work.

5. Demotion

If the offense is not too serious, the employee may be demoted to a lower position in the organization. This might be as a result of misconduct, continued poor performance or loss of trust. Other penalties associated with demotion also include temporary pay cuts and loss of privileges like insurance, retirement, well-ness, paid leave, and others.

6. Termination

Minor misconduct can be corrected by using when following the above steps. Major misbehavior like sexual harassment, assault, theft, continued violations, and so on cannot be overlooked by the employer and will most likely result in termination of employee. The decision is made mutually by HR and supervisor/manager after a thorough investigation into the case.

Disciplinary Action Conduct Policy

A disciplinary action policy consists of procedures, rules, and consequences of misconduct, continued poor performance, and violation of policy. It includes how such behavior is to be addressed, communicated, and dealt with.

The main aim is to provide employees with clear rules and guidelines stating the conduct and performance expected along with the consequences if the policy is violated. There are three major disciplinary action policies – progressive discipline, performance improvement plans, and reassignment or suspension.

A proper disciplinary action policy ensures equal and fair treatment of employees, protects from claims of wrongful termination/suspension, and improves employee performance. Disciplinary action policies must include the following:

1. Policy outline

A disciplinary policy gives an overview of the procedures undertaken to address misconduct, poor performance, and rule violations. It should also include severe cases that will lead to termination/actions. A process to report and investigate employee misconduct can also be mentioned. This policy should also state the right to skip the steps in serious cases and must include procedures for recurring misconduct and how they will be dealt with.

2. At-will employment agreement

This agreement states that all the employees of an organization work at will and can be terminated without warning. It shows the contractual relationship between the employer and the employee. This also means that employees may terminate their own position with or without any reason.

3. Modes of discipline

Based on the offense or misbehavior, employers may choose the form of discipline administered. They are categorized into performance improvement, suspension/reassignment, and progressive discipline. A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a document designed to help employees who are not able to meet their performance goals. A progressive discipline covers steps taken to correct continued misbehavior or misconduct. This includes verbal/written warnings, demotion, or even termination.

4. Steps taken for each mode of discipline

When giving an overview of the forms of discipline, state each step that will be taken to address the same. A disciplinary policy should include why and how the employer will be moving the case to the next step. It also includes the process for documenting and communicating. Here, documentation refers to noting down why and how the person was at fault, the investigations conducted, detailed disciplinary meeting notes, evidence presented, and the action taken against an employee.

5. Procedure in the disciplinary process

For first or minor offenses, employers usually correct behavior through a verbal or written reprimand. It may escalate to a formal disciplinary meeting if the supervisor has found repeated concerns in conduct, performance, capability, etc. Outline the procedures the supervisor and employee must take to support evidence or make appeals. Sometimes, it may lead to suspension, demotion, or loss of benefits/privileges. For more serious offenses, it will lead to termination.

6. Right to appeal

The right to appeal is the right of an employee to provide evidence against the allegations made against him. There can be cases where employees are treated unfairly or are the subject of wrongful allegations. A disciplinary policy should list the steps an employee has to take to appeal against a decision made by the supervisor or HR. Usually, a disciplinary meeting notifies an employee of his misconduct and the action to be taken against him. Following a meeting, the employee has the right to appeal against any allegation made, if it is unjust. It is HR or representative who decides if the situation requires another investigation.

Examples of Disciplinary Action Behaviors

When an employee fails to meet performance expectations or exhibits inappropriate behavior, employers correct such actions. Some of the behaviors that require disciplinary action are:

1. Employee performance

Poor or unsatisfactory performance that is not caused by external factors calls for disciplinary action. It aims to support the employees in improving their performance. But if such performance is continued and an employee resists change, it may require severe disciplinary action. Poor performances are usually corrected via performance improvement plans or warnings.

2. Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is a type of misbehavior that happens at work. It involves an employee being offensive, mocking, and hostile towards other employees or their work. Such behavior causes either emotional or physical harm and should be corrected as soon as possible. Some examples include starting rumors, intentionally excluding others, being aggressive, publicly criticizing work, threats, being unfair, being inappropriate, etc.

3. Misconduct

Employee misconduct is a type of intentional behavior that harms employees and the organization. Misconduct that is not meant to harm others is usually corrected through warnings and does not call for immediate termination or suspension. However, a few deliberate behaviors require termination, suspension, or reassignment. It includes:

Sexual harassment: According to Employment Equity Act, 1998, it is considered as the most heinous misconduct that plagues a workplace. Employers must take necessary steps to ensure that such harassment is eliminated completely from the workplace.

Policy violations: Refer to when employees go against company policy. It can be considered as a minor offense and such behavior is mostly corrected via written or verbal reprimands.

Fraud: It includes but is not limited to corruption, bribery, embezzlement, payroll or accounting fraud. Misconduct such as this takes time to detect and investigate. Sometimes, it is difficult to produce evidence against such behavior.

Property sabotage: Includes deliberate damage to company property either caused due to negligence or willfulness. Conduct a thorough investigation before taking any disciplinary action. When evidence suggests that an employee has conducted misconduct, it will result in termination without warning or pay cut.

Theft: Covers theft related to credit cards, expenses, data, company assets, etc. Disciplinary action taken against employees depends on the company policy, but the most common action is either suspension or dismissal from the position.

4. Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace refers to a situation where one person treats others unfairly. It could be on the basis of gender, caste, religion, nationality, disability, race, etc. An organization should design a clear policy that protects the interests of all employees. In such cases, the employee is reassigned or terminated, based on the extremity of discrimination.

5. Substance or alcohol abuse

Drug or substance abuse will not only damage the employee’s health but can also degrade the organization’s reputation. The nature of work and profession puts employees at risk for alcohol and drug abuse. While such behavior reveals a few issues associated with the workplace, it can also cause termination.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

1. What is the role of HR in discipline?

HR plays a crucial role in discipline by explaining the disciplinary policy, identifying any violators of the policy, conducting investigations, and acting as a representative in the disciplinary meeting or hearing. It also assists in the deciding and implementation of disciplinary action.

2. What is the main purpose of disciplinary action?

The main purpose of disciplinary action is to alert, improve, or correct unacceptable behavior at work. It does not aim to punish the employee unless the case is serious enough. When such behaviors are corrected, performance and productivity is improved.

3. What is disciplinary action against an employee?

A disciplinary action that does not support an employee’s conduct consists of warnings, suspension, demotion, or termination – which are against the employee. The organization usually supports or improves poor performance and addictions before taking any serious action.

4. How do you handle disciplinary action?

To handle disciplinary actions, a good understanding of the policy and ability to handle sensitive matters is necessary. Some of the best practices are:

  • Check the company’s disciplinary policy
  • Confirm the misbehavior
  • Verify the witness statements and evidence presented
  • Hear all sides of the situation
  • Prepare documents before any meeting
  • Have a private meeting
  • State the right reasons for the disciplinary action
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