5 Steps to Disciplining Employees (When Necessary)

If you’ve been following my blog posts, I’ve been offering tips on interviewing, hiring, onboarding and managing employees. Unfortunately, sometimes next up is disciplining employees (when necessary). Do you have an employee that arrives late every day or sits at their desk all day long watching tv/videos on the internet? If so, you may want to take a couple of minutes and read this blog post.

It’s not pleasant, but disciplining employees may be necessary when you are in a management role. Effective discipline can help correct employee behavior and improve productivity. Before you get started though, it’s important to have a discipline policy in place so your employees know what is expected and what will happen when they don’t meet those expectations. I use the following steps for disciplinary action.

Step 1: Oral Warning – As soon as you see an issue with the employee’s behavior or performance, you should bring it to the person’s attention. Be sure to think this process through before speaking your mind as you want to avoid making this a personal attack. To maintain records for the Human Resource Department, when reprimanding the employee, I also use an Oral Warning Form to properly document the reprimand so I can keep it in the employee’s file.

Step 2: Written Warning – Sometimes an employee may not take your oral warning as a serious offense. If they continue despite the oral warning, it may be time to issue a written warning. The written warning should detail exactly what the behavior or performance is. Be sure to also include how the employee can correct the issues as well as what will happen if they don’t change their ways. With a written warning, both parties should have a copy of it and both should be signed by the manager and employee. You can also include a witness to this warning as an extra layer of protection for the company. In that case, all parties, including the witness should sign the written warning.

Step 3: Final Warning – I call this the final warning because if the employee’s behavior/bad performance continues, this is the final warning before suspension or termination. In this step, you should provide documentation of all the other times that warnings were documented. The employee needs to understand that if they continue, they will either be suspended, placed on a probationary period or terminated.

Step 4: Suspension/Probation – This step is up to you. Depending on the employee’s actions, you may just decide to skip this step and go straight to step 5. During this step, you may decide to dock the person’s pay, place them into continuous supervision, etc. Before this step, be sure to consult with your HR Department.

Step 5: Termination – We all try to avoid this step for a variety of reasons. However, if the employee can’t/won’t change their ways, you need to follow through with termination. Be sure to provide documentation of all warnings and an exact reason for the termination. If you properly documented everything and gave the person chances to change, you should be able to avoid any potential wrongful termination lawsuits.

Keeping proper documentation is key when disciplining employees. HR Departments will thank you because it makes their job easier and it will also back up your story if you are ever sued for wrongful termination. Terminating employees can be stressful but depending on the situation, is absolutely necessary.

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