Workplace Disciplinary Policies

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Should an Employer Establish Disciplinary Policies in the Workplace?

There are several benefits to setting out a disciplinary policy for employees.  First off, employees are aware of an expectation of how to conduct themselves in the workplace.  This may help save a lot of time dealing disputes that may come up in the workplace if there is not a guideline set out for employees to follow. 

The second advantage is that it makes the workplace a more enjoyable and productive area.  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. 

The third advantage is that setting out disciplinary policies ahead of time helps the employer to avoid lawsuits by employees who feel they have been disciplined unfairly.  If an employer does not have a policy set out, the employer may make the mistake of punishing two different employees in different ways for the same prohibited act.  The employee who suffered the harsher treatment could claim discrimination by the employer and sue. 

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.

First, the policy should be written down and in a location in which employees can easily see it. The kitchen 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.

Second, avoid writing 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 preclude the default at-will employment.

For instance, if the policy says “only employees who sexually harass another person will be terminated,” then the policy would prevent the employer from terminating employees for any other reasons. The policy should explicitly preserve the at-will employment relationship and give the employer the option to take actions other than the ones listed in the policy.  

Finally, the disciplinary policy should be firmly enforced. The policy could be considered waived if the employer fails to follow the policy. Although the language can be flexible, enforcing it should not be.

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:

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 claim against your employer.

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Last Modified: 06-25-2013 01:42 PM PDT

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