How do I ensure that the progressive discipline is fair?

In addition to the four golden rules of progressive discipline, there are other considerations you need to make on a case-by-case basis. Review this ''litmus test'' any time you're about to engage in the disciplinary process:

- You've got to be consistent in the application of your own rules. In other words, look not only to your written policies but also to your past practices when handling similar types of offenses.

- The discipline must b appropriate for the offense. Be sure to fit the company's response to the seriousness of the infraction.

- Employees should be given an opportunity to respond. Each employee deserves to tell her side of the story before disciplinary action is taken. Therefore, as a general rule, you should conduct the meeting first, explain the purpose of the meeting, listen to the employee's side of the story, and then write the disciplinary memo. You should also encourage employees to document their version of the story for the record. Include a sentence in the written warning that states:

I recognize that you may have your own ideas for improving the situation at hand. Therefore, I encourage you to provide your performance improvement plan input and suggestions on a separate sheet of paper if you wish.

- Discipline can't be administered in a vacuum. Disciplinary memos must be tied logically to prior written records in an employee's file. Therefore, always review prior warnings and performance reviews, and acknowledge consistencies and discrepancies in prior records.

Tell Me More

Remember one additional rule that will always help you administer discipline fairly. Always ask yourself, How would I respond if my best-performing employee committed the same error? If you would respond the same way with your best performer as you would now with an employee who's having difficulty meeting job expectations, then you know that you're responding fairly. On the other hand, if it appears that you may be acting more harshly with your current worker than you would with others, then reconsider your actions before moving forward.

A caveat here, of course, is that similar infractions need not be handled identically. You reserve the discretion to consider an employee s prior service, overall performance, and prior discipline when evaluating new infractions. For example, a newly hired employee who engages in inappropriate workplace conduct by offending someone s ethnicity or sexual orientation may be dismissed immediately. That same behavior from a ten-year employee without similar prior incidents may merit a written or final written warning instead of outright discharge. It s your responsibility as the employer to match the discipline to the offense.

What are the most common kinds of disciplinary infractions?

Generally speaking, there are four types of transgressions that occur in the workplace:

- Policy and procedure violations

- Performance transgressions

- Behavior and conduct infractions

- Absenteeism or tardiness problems

Although employee transgressions are rarely identical, most infractions can be categorized in one of these four areas. Some disciplinary infractions violate more than one of these issues simultaneously. For example, an employee who is excessively late to work violates the ''tardiness'' and ''performance'' categories. Similarly, someone who engages in inappropriate workplace conduct by getting into a screaming match with a coworker violates the ''policy'' and ''behavior'' categories.

The key to allowing progressive discipline lies in establishing a link or connection between events. Using the example just given, an employee who is excessively late to work may at first receive a verbal reprimand and an admonition to be on time. If that doesn't fix the problem, then a written warning and, ultimately, a final written warning may be appropriate. Failure to meet the terms of the final written warning may result in the employee's termination. In essence, the employee will have failed to rehabilitate herself, despite the company's ongoing warnings and stepped-up consequences.

Tell Me More

Substandard job performance is probably the most common problem. When employees have difficulty mastering the basics of a job or when they fail to communicate appropriately so that their supervisors learn of problems before they become serious concerns, termination for substandard job performance is appropriate.

Inappropriate workplace conduct leads to dismissal if an employee commits gross insubordination, engages in unlawful activities on the job, fights with a coworker, commits time card fraud or otherwise steals time or money from the organization, or violates company policies regarding sexual harassment or discrimination.

Attendance and tardiness infractions occur when an employee fails to hold himself sufficiently responsible to report to work on time on a consistent basis. Some companies have very clearly defined policies regarding what constitutes tardiness or an occurrence of unscheduled absence. Others handle these matters on a case by case basis. Companies also differ as to how many occurrences justify discipline and, ultimately, termination for cause.

Why is it important to identify the type of infraction and the link between disciplinary events? The answer lies in the perception of fairness. When a repeated violation of the same rule or type of rule occurs, further discipline is warranted. That's fair to your workers and would be perceived as equitable by a jury.

What you don't want to do, however, is create a record in which the manager addresses employees' isolated behavioral events. Sometimes our forms and policies create these problems for us. For example, one fairly common method of administering discipline is via a ''performance warning'' postcard. These postcards list upward of forty individual infractions in a ''check box'' format. When an employee violates one of the forty specific performance areas, the manager checks off the corresponding box.

There are two problems with this method. First, giving an employee a postcard is akin to giving him a speeding ticket. It's a quick, down-and-dirty exercise that asks for little input or commitment on his part and offers no help on yours. As such, it has a demeaning element to it. Second and more important is the fact that disciplinary infractions are rarely identical. It is difficult to progress from a verbal to a written to a final written warning when there is little connection between events. You could end up issuing your employees two or three written warnings for different infractions rather than progressing to a final written warning for overall substandard performance.

Instead of using this postcard method with lists of isolated infractions, simply tie specific incidents to one of the four broad categories listed earlier. It will then be much easier to demonstrate the link or nexus between events, and you will have the documented grounds necessary to make your performance management system effective.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >