Establishing a standardized disciplinary procedure is essential in running any form of business. Every business must have workplace rules governing their employees conduct and no matter how professional the workplace, at some point one of these rules will be broken. Having an established system for uniformly investigating, processing, and disciplining employee workplace violations is extremely important. Some of the benefits of having a system like this in place include:
- Notice: By having a comprehensive disciplinary system in place, employees are not only made aware of what conduct is expected in the workplace, but how any potential future infraction will be treated.
- Higher Morale and Increased Productivity: If employees know that a fellow employee who acts in a hostile and prohibited manner will not be tolerated by an employer and will disciplined in some fashion, employees will feel safer and happier about their work environment.
- Limit Legal Liability: Having an established uniform disciplinary system in place can limit employee resentment for disciplinary action and help to avoid workplace discrimination suits. If all employees are punished in the same manner for a particular violation, there is a lesser chance the disciplinary action will be viewed discriminatory.
How Should an Employer Design Its Disciplinary Policy?
A disciplinary policy is a strong communication tool, but it should follow certain guidelines to ensure that the policy works as intended:
- The disciplinary policy should be attached to a clear Code of Conduct.
- Both the code of conduct and disciplinary policy should be written down and in a location where employees can easily see it. The kitchen, break room, and employee handbooks are typical locations. This step might sound obvious, but a policy which the employees do not know about is not a policy.
- Make a presentation to new employees explaining workplace rules and disciplinary policies. Ensure that the employees are made aware of the penalties that will be imposed for common violations of the code of conduct.
- Don’t write the policy in a manner which could be interpreted as a contract. With disciplinary policies, the risk is that the policy might be written in a way which could create an implied employment contract (i.e. negating employees’ at-will work status).
- Standardize the steps to be taken in the disciplinary process and ensure they are written down. However, only include essential steps that will be used in every disciplinary action.
- Provide for rapid notification of employee violations.
- Allow for an appeals process to grant employees the opportunity to explain the conduct leading to a violation.
- Always include a statement that the disciplinary policy is to be used as guidance and that the employer reserves the right to modify the policy in any way should the circumstances require it.
What Should an Employer Do to Avoid Liability When Disciplining an Employee?
There are some basic rules that every employer should follow when it comes time to discipline an employee for prohibited actions:
- Privacy: a meeting between an employer and employee to discuss discipline should be conducted quietly and discreetly to protect the employee's privacy rights.
- Communication: the employer should be open and honest with the employee by describing what the employee did that was wrong, why it was wrong, and what the consequences of such behavior will be. The employer should also allow time for the employee to tell his side of the story and defend himself.
- Put it in Written Form: the employer should a complete record of every disciplinary meeting and the action taken.
- Check Up: if the employer requests a change in employee conduct (e.g. improvement in productivity), there should be a set deadline to mark the employee’s progress.
Do I Need a Lawyer for my Employee Disciplinary Policy Problem?
If you are drafting an employee disciplinary policy, an experienced employment lawyer can help you add provisions that protect you from liability. If you have been unfairly disciplined in violation of your employer's disciplinary policy, an employment attorney can help you file a compensatory claim, gather evidence, and represent you in court proceedings.