Dishing out discipline
HOW TO PROPERLY CORRECT EMPLOYEE BEHAVIOUR – AND WHEN
The primary principle underlying discipline is not to punish, but is to correct inappropriate behaviour so it does not reoccur. A proper investigation is the basis for determining what discipline is appropriate, given the circumstances, while minimizing the probability of repeat infractions. It also frequently reveals management policies or practices that should be reviewed. Unclear policies, and those that are inconsistently enforced among the entire workforce, should be fixed to avoid unnecessary violations due to ambiguity or a feeling among employees that they can get away with it.
There are several questions managers should ask when problems occur:
How serious is the infraction? Are company policies in place and made known to employees? Is the offender a longtime employee? Does the employee have a clean record, or is he/she a repeat offender? Is the current violation similar in nature to previous infractions? Do you have proof (such as witnesses, video footage or network records) that inappropriate behaviour took place? Are there mitigating factors, such as the employee dealing with significant personal issues?
If the incident involves significant theft, physical force, harassment or bullying, dismissal for just and sufficient cause should be considered. This decision should nevertheless be undertaken with the advice of a labour lawyer. For less serious violations, progressive discipline is usually effective and appropriate. Each step along a progressive discipline process should include a warning of the consequences if the employee continues with the inappropriate behaviour.
Generally speaking, if the offence is not serious, policies are not well known, and/or the offender is a long-serving employee with a clean record, a quiet verbal warning by the manager or supervisor is often sufficient. If the inappropriate behaviour continues, a verbal warning with a witness – an HR manager, union rep or another supervisor or manager – should be the next step.
Should the undesirable behaviour still continue, the next steps would include a written letter of discipline to be placed on the employee’s file. Company policies may allow such letters to be removed after a reasonable period of time if no other related or non-related offences occur within a set timeframe.
Discipline may progress to more severe outcomes, such as a one-day suspension, followed by a three-day suspension with pay, a suspension without pay, and finally dismissal. During all steps, the manager or supervisor should document the conversations and meetings for their own records. For any discipline that may progress to dismissal, it is highly recommended that legal counsel be sought, as it is common for employees to sue their employers for unjust dismissal even in cases of serious infractions. Delma Devoe is a human resources consultant who has contributed to successful labour relations and human resources practices at Canadian National Railways in Montreal and CTV Television Inc. in Ottawa.