Learning & Development

Discipline—Don’t Let Supervisors Go It Alone

Don’t let your supervisors discipline employees on their own, says attorney Jeffrey Wortman. Keep HR involved. Supervisors and managers about to impose discipline are often frustrated, angry, and at the end of their ropes. That’s not a good place for clear thinking and rational discipline.

Wortman, a partner in the Los Angeles office of national employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, offered his guidelines for good discipline at BLR’s annual Employment Law Update conference in Las Vegas.

The ‘Discipline’ of Discipline

To be sure that discipline is level-headed, consistent, and appropriate, Wortman suggests that supervisors and managers answer the following questions before taking action:

–Does the employee know of the rule or performance standard?
–Is the rule or standard reasonable? Assuming yes, is enforcement of the rule reasonable under the circumstances?
–Is the action consistent with how other employees have been disciplined for the same or similar misconduct?
–Have you reviewed all relevant materials including handbooks, contracts, policies, disciplinary history, and performance evaluations?
–Have you interviewed third parties who may know of or been involved in the incident?
–Are there accurate, contemporary, and clear notes from interviews and investigations?
–Have you confronted the employee about the misconduct?
–Has the employee had a fair opportunity to explain or deny the conduct?
–Are you convinced that you know all the pertinent facts and that this disciplinary action is the best way to handle the situation?

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Administering Progressive Discipline

Although progressive discipline does provide a step-by-step procedure, supervisors must realize that it is not to be followed blindly, says Wortman, because no two situations are alike. Yes, consistency is important, but supervisors should keep the following factors in mind when assessing the need for and appropriate level of discipline:

  • The seriousness of the problem. Is it a major infraction that requires immediate attention, or is it a minor incident where constructive, verbal counseling is more appropriate?

  • The employee’s history. Is this the first problem for this employee, or has he or she had this or other problems in the past?

  • The frequency. If there have been problems in the past, what has been the frequency of the infractions? How long has it been since the last one?

  • Employee’s work history. What is the quality of the employee’s work? How long has he or she been with the organization?

  • Extenuating circumstances. Are there any unusual factors that could have contributed to the situation or should be taken into account?

  • Past practice. How has your organization handled similar situations in the past?

Final Tip

Wortman offers one more tip: Prompt action is essential. If you delay, he says, it suggests that the problem does not seriously impact your business, or worse, that you condone the behavior.

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