Workplace Disciplinary Policies

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 What are Human Resources Policies?

Human resource policies are formal rules and guidelines which businesses put into place which govern certain issues pertaining to employees, including:

  • Hiring;
  • Training;
  • Assessments; and
  • Rewarding.

These policies may serve to prevent many misunderstandings and disputes between the employees and their employer. Clear and well-drafted human resource policies inform employees or their rights and duties in the workplace.

Human resources policies are typically contained in a company’s employee handbook. An employee handbook is often provided to employees when they take a job with an organization.

Human resources policies should address all basic interactions between employees and employers as well as those which occur between employees. Additionally, the policies should be able to anticipate possible disputes or legal claims which may arise in connection with workplace issues.

Issues which human resources policies should cover include:

  • The use and ownership of company products and resources;
  • Discrimination, harassment, and other workplace disputes;
  • Wages and overtime pay;
  • Benefits and vacation terms;
  • Reimbursements for business expenses, which may include travel and lodging;
  • Telecommuting policies;
  • Retirement and pension plans;
  • Substance abuse and drug testing;
  • Dress codes;
  • Mail, shipping, and fax policies;
  • Recreational activities;
  • Promotion policies;
  • Insurance policies, including medical and dental policies; and
  • Ways to report and resolve disputes.

It is important for human resources policies to be clearly drafted and easy for employees to understand. Because of this, it may be helpful to hire an attorney to draft the policies according to business law standards.

Should an Employer Establish Disciplinary Policies in the Workplace?

In order to successfully run any form of business, it is important to establish a standardized disciplinary procedure. Every organization must have workplace rules which govern the conduct of their employees.

No matter how professional a workplace is, at some point, workplace rules will be broken. It is essential for a business to have a system established to investigate, process, and discipline employee workplace violations.

There are many benefits of having this type of a system in place, including:

  • Notice;
  • Higher morale and increased productivity; and
  • Limiting legal liability.

When employers have comprehensive disciplinary systems in place, their employees are made aware of what type of conduct is expected in the workplace. They are also notified regarding how any future infractions will be treated.

These systems may result in higher morale and increased productivity because employees will know that their fellow employees who act in a hostile or prohibited manner will not be tolerated by their employer. Employees also know that violations will be disciplined in some way, causing them to feel safer and happier in their work environment.

Having an established uniform disciplinary system will also limit employee resentment for disciplinary actions as well as limit legal liability by avoiding workplace discrimination lawsuits. If all of the employees are punished in the same manner for a certain type of violation, there is a lesser chance that a disciplinary action will be regarded as discriminatory.

How Should an Employer Design Its Disciplinary Policy?

Discriminatory policies are strong communication tools. They should follow certain guidelines in order to ensure that the policies work as they are intended to, including:

  • The disciplinary policy should be attached to a clearly drafted Code of Conduct;
  • Both the disciplinary policy and the code of conduct should be in writing as well as in a
  • location where employees can easily view it. Typical locations include:
    • the kitchen;
    • break room; and
    • employee handbooks;
  • Make presentations to any new employees which explain workplace rules as well as disciplinary policies. Ensure that employees are informed of the penalties which will be imposed for violations of the code of conduct;
  • Do not write the policy in such a way that it could be interpreted as a contract. With disciplinary policies, one risk is that the policies may be written in such a way that may create an implied employment contract, which may negate the at-will work status of the employee;
  • Standardize the steps which are to be taken during the disciplinary process and ensure that those steps are written down. It is important to only include essential steps which will be used in each disciplinary action;
  • Provide for rapid notification to employees of any violations;
  • Provide a process which allows for appeals so that employees have the opportunity to explain the conduct which lead to the violation; and
  • Always include a statement that the disciplinary policy is to be used as a guideline and that the employer reserves the right to modify the policy in any way which may be deemed necessary.

What Should an Employer Do to Avoid Liability When Disciplining an Employee?

There are several basic rules which every employer should follow when disciplining an employee for any prohibited action, including:

  • Privacy. Meetings between employers and employees to discuss discipline should be conducted quietly and discreetly to protect the employee’s privacy rights;
  • Communication. An 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 their side of the story and defend themselves;
  • Put it in written form. An employer should keep a complete record of every disciplinary meeting and the action taken; and
  • Check up. If an employer requests a change in employee conduct, such as an improvement in productivity, there should be a set deadline to mark the employee’s progress.

How Should an Employee Respond to Disciplinary Actions?

For any employee who receives a disciplinary action, it is better to respond rather than to react. It is easy to have a strong negative reaction to a write-up, especially if an employee feels it is in error or that the information was taken out of context.

If an employee wants to challenge a disciplinary action against them, they should do so professionally. When an employee is given a write-up, they should immediately inform their employer that they do not agree with the contents.

The employee should remain calm, share only facts, and be direct with their statements. It may be possible to discuss the issue at that time without formally filing the disciplinary action.

If an individual is feeling emotional about the issue and does not want to discuss it on the spot, it is acceptable to tell the employer that they disagree and that they will be submitting a rebuttal (response) the following day. Prior to submitting a response, it is important for the employee to gather all of the facts and supporting evidence for their case.

It is important for the employee to review emails, calendars, and any other evidence which may support their position and demonstrate that they are not at fault. If possible, the employee should locate any witnesses who may be able to corroborate the employee’s side and request that they write a letter of support to accompany the employee’s rebuttal.

If this type of write-up is given along with a performance review, it is important not to let generic comments go without being questioned. For example, if an individual’s employer states they are “not trying hard enough,” it is important for the employee to request specific examples.

If the employer is not able to provide specific examples, the employee should record that in their response. It is important to provide documentation regarding any accusations of failing to meet expectations of the employer and to address each point and provide evidence, when possible.

In some employment situations, the failure to sign a write-up may lead to more disciplinary action. If an employee disagrees with a disciplinary action, the employee should request a rebuttal or to sign the document and ensure that their signature does not indicate that they agree with the contents.

Do I Need a Lawyer for my Employee Disciplinary Policy Problem?

It is crucial to have the assistance of an workplace attorney if you or your company is drafting employee disciplinary policies. Your attorney can assist you with drafting and adding provisions as well as helping to protect you from liability.

If you have been disciplined unfairly and in violation of your employer’s disciplinary policy, your attorney can help you file a claim for compensatory damages. Your attorney will represent you when you are required to appear in court.

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