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What is Disciplinary Action?

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Just like any other social setting, the workplace requires particular conduct. Failure to act accordingly might result in an employer starting a disciplinary action against an employee. 

As uncomfortable as it may be for the manager and the worker to give and receive a reprimand, it is essential to have a disciplinary procedure in place because it helps maintain a healthy working environment. 

Additionally, it increases employee engagement by prompting the workforce to follow the organizational rules, improve their behavior and performance, and work towards the company’s goals. 

However, to ensure maximum compliance to desired conduct and minimize the need for disciplinary actions, employees must understand what disciplinary action is, which forms of actions their company can set out, and what behavior may warrant one. 

What is Disciplinary Action?

By definition, disciplinary action in a workplace is a procedure that lets an organization deal with employee misconduct, poor performance, irregular attendance, or rule violation. 

Depending on the severity of the issue, the company might try to resolve the matter informally by having an unofficial conversation with the employee to make them aware of the problem, or they might immediately turn to disciplinary procedures.  

Its purpose is to guarantee employees’ safety and minimize workplace disruptions. It aims to inform the worker of the issue, offer them opportunities for improvement, and explain the consequences if a correction does not occur. 

Companies should outline all rules in a company handbook to ensure that all employees are conscious of what is acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace and what could result in a disciplinary procedure.  

The handbook should also include the types of intolerable behavior and what disciplinary action the employee will endure in case of misconduct. 

What Types of Behavior Qualify for Disciplinary Action?

Many behaviors can merit disciplinary actions, and deciding upon them largely depends on the employer and the type of business. Therefore, the company must outline all improper misconduct in an employee handbook to ascertain complete transparency. 

Behavior that might warrant disciplinary action can include: 

  • Failure to perform the job 
  • Harassment or assault in the workplace 
  • Threats or acts of violence against employees or customers 
  • Excessive use of inappropriate language 
  • Dress code violations 
  • Minor or gross misconduct 
  • Discrimination 
  • Attendance issues 
  • Fraud 
  • Theft 

Depending on the behavior, the employer can use different disciplinary actions to resolve the wrongdoing.  

Disciplinary Action Examples

Employers can take various disciplinary actions depending on the organization and the gravity of the misconduct. However, the three most common disciplinary action examples are progressive discipline, performance improvement plan, and reassignment or suspension. 

Progressive discipline 

Progressive discipline is the most common and traditional disciplinary action. With this method, the disciplinary actions become harsher if the employee doesn’t show progress in correcting the issue. There are five sequential steps to this process: 

  1. Verbal warning. Typically, the first step is giving the employee a firm verbal warning explaining why their behavior or action is considered improper. The warner should also outline what corrective measures the worker should undertake to solve the problem. Even though this step is done privately, HR must be informed about it. 
  2. Formal written warning. The written warning goes into more detail about the issue, how the employee should address it, and what would be the repercussions if there is no betterment on the matter. The written document gets signed by the manager, worker, and a witness and is put in the employee’s file. 
  3. Disciplinary meeting. If the verbal and written warnings don’t yield results, the employee meets with the supervisor and an HR representative to discuss the concern. The worker is reminded of the previous warnings and the corrective measures. The employer should caution the worker that a lack of amendment after this point will result in more punitive actions. 
  4. Suspension, probation, or loss of privileges. This is the penultimate step before termination, which means it is the last chance for the employee to rectify his position in the company. In this step, the worker may receive penalties, like losing privileges, a suspension, or even a demotion. During this stage, the manager could implement performance reviews to follow progress closely. 
  5. Termination. After all other steps are exhausted, termination is the final step in this process. Management meets face-to-face with the employee to review all previous warnings and documentation about the worker’s inability to fix the issue. HR investigates the case and approves the termination. 

Progressive discipline is an excellent tool in case of mild misconduct. However, if the transgression is much more severe, the organization should take more rigorous disciplinary actions. 

Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

A performance improvement plan is a rehabilitative approach that allows employees the chance to correct their behavior and stay in the company.  

Establishing the plan should follow the performance management process to help the employer set clear goals and objectives, giving employees a clear framework for improvement expectations. 

During the process, the worker has regular meetings with the supervisor and HR, who follow their progress towards the goals and objectives. 

Additionally, PIP should include a plan about what happens if the employee does not meet the outlined expectations. This form of discipline might also result in termination. 

Reassignment or suspension 

When employees can no longer stay in their position due to behavioral issues or conflict, they can be reassigned when termination is not the best approach.  

Reassignment requires meticulous workforce planning about the new position the worker will take, and in some instances, it might also necessitate reskilling or upskilling. 

Suspension as a form of discipline is a more punitive approach used in the case of a graver issue. It obliges workers to repair their behavior and meet certain conditions to get reinstated. 

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A Disciplinary Action Policy

A discipline action policy defines and standardizes response procedures in case of an incident contrary to company policy. A well-drafted policy sets out the company’s rules and the consequences of not following them. 

Every company can develop its own policy, but it should include the following six elements: 

  • Policy overview. This section outlines the steps the company takes to address inappropriate behavior. 
  • Statement of employment. This segment states that all employees can be terminated at any time, for any reason. 
  • The forms of discipline and the steps of the procedures. This portion includes each step the employer will take to address the issue and the reasoning behind each step. In addition, it states what forms of discipline will be used depending on the matter and the requirements for managers during the procedures.  
  • Description of the steps of the disciplinary actions. This section explains each step of disciplinary action in detail and what employees can expect. Additionally, it includes the chronological order of the steps but also explains what instances of misconduct do not follow that order. 
  • A declaration concerning the right of an employee to appeal. The policy must include a statement that any employee who believes the decision was not fair or proper can appeal to the appropriate department, including the steps on how to appeal. 
  • Statements regarding the company’s legal protections. This portion includes legal protections to shield the business in case of legal issues. To avoid legal ramifications, the policy must include: 
    1. A Statement that protects the company’s right to terminate employees 
    2. Information about unacceptable behaviors 
    3. Coherent and equitable discipline guidelines 
    4. Measures against managers who abuse disciplinary actions 
    5. Requirements of documentation and evidence of behavior problems 

Examples of Disciplinary Policies

It is up to the company’s legal department to draw up a disciplinary policy, but there are some online examples and templates that can serve as guidelines. 

  • Employment Law Information Network. This is an example of a policy that follows the progressive discipline approach.  
  • Workable. Their disciplinary policy goes into detail about who it applies to, includes the actions, and outlines the expectations. 
  • BetterTeam. They provide a drafted policy outline that only requires filling in the blanks with company details and adding necessary information. 

Corporate Disciplinary Action Procedures

A corporate disciplinary action procedure is the process of dealing with employee misconduct. A disciplinary action might seem very time-consuming, but it is vital to follow the correct steps to protect the business from legal reprimand. 

A well-developed and clear procedure can also make the situation more formal and peaceful since it is usually a time when emotions are running high. 

Each company develops its own disciplinary action procedure, but to ensure a smooth process protected from any legal claims, it should include these six steps: 

  1. Understanding the situation. Before taking any further steps, it is pivotal to establish all the facts. The critical point is to talk to the employee and get their take on the situation. After determining the issue, it should be decided whether the employer can deal with it more informally or if it is necessary to start a formal disciplinary process. 
  2. Carrying out a thorough investigation. If the misconduct is more substantial, the right step is to start a formal procedure. Firstly, and most importantly, the employer must gather all information and evidence about the situation. This entails having an investigation meeting and possible employee suspension.  
  3. Setting up a disciplinary meeting. After the investigation is complete, the following step is to invite the worker to a formal disciplinary meeting in writing. The invitation letter must give the employee reasonable notice, advise them on their rights, provide copies of the evidence against them, and clearly outline the potential outcomes of the meeting. 
  4. Conducting the meeting. At the disciplinary meeting, the employer must explain the allegations against the employee, examine the evidence, and allow them to respond, if they wish. If the employee’s comments raise concerns that require further investigation, the employer must gather additional evidence before making a decision. It is essential that the whole meeting is noted, preferably by a note-taker, to provide witness to discussions. 
  5. Making a decision. After conducting the meeting and considering all evidence, the employer should decide whether they will take disciplinary action and in what form. Upon completing the decision, certain things must be considered, such as if the employee has previous warnings, are there any mitigating circumstances, have there been similar cases and how they were dealt with, and whether the sanction is fair and reasonable for the matter at hand. 
  6. Informing the employee and giving them the right to appeal. Once the employer concludes the outcome, it should be put in writing and delivered to the worker. The employee must have the chance to appeal and challenge the decision if they deem it unfair or unreasonable. In the case of an appeal, there must be an appeal meeting that follows the same steps as the disciplinary meeting. Once the process is complete, the decision is put in writing, and it will be final. 

On a Final Note 

Misconduct puts the organization at risk and endangers the safety of employees and customers. That is why it is vital to have disciplinary action in place to deal with each inappropriate behavior professionally and legally. 

Written by Shortlister Editorial Team
Written by Shortlister Editorial Team

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