Dish­ing out dis­ci­pline


Ottawa Business Journal - HR Update - - Management Tools - Writ­ten by DELMA DEVOE

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.

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