Friday, December 14, 2012

Steps to document unacceptable behavior

Along with the policies that you put into place - you must have a system for how you are going to discipline employees who violate these policies. If you have a good system - it will ensure that you treat everyone equally and fairly. If you just fly by the seat of your pants...you will end up with a problem - some employees may be held to a different standard than others...that can come back to bite you in the form of lawsuits.

It has been my experience that these steps will help you to discipline offenders fairly - and give you the paper trail you will need if someone does try to bring wrongful termination or discrimination suit against you.


  • Decide how many times you think you should have to discuss an issue with an employee before you terminate them.  Most companies that I have been affiliated with have a process something like this:
    • First offense - verbal reprimand - you talk to the employee and tell them that their behavior was in violation of a policy.  Even though this is a verbal reprimand - you must document it somewhere - for an example of this - see yesterday's post.  Make the note in your logbook or date book. These options are good because you can write it on the day that the discussion took place which will make it easier to refer back to if needed
    • Second offense - written warning. Create a form or find a template to use for this. If you use a form that you fill out whenever you have to discipline an employee you will be confident that you are providing the same information for every employee. Showing this kind of consistency can be helpful if you need to defend your decision. Fill out the information - sit down with the employee and review the write up - you may want to have another manager or even your supervisor present as a witness to this discussion.  One thing that must be included on the write up is a statement of what the next step will be if the behavior continues. For example:  "If Joe is late for work again he will be subject to a second and final written warning. Any infractions after that within a 6 month period will result in termination".  It is good to put a time frame on this.  If Joe goes for a year and isn't ever late - and then he is late one time - it may be over-reacting to terminate him. Resetting the clock so to speak is a reasonable thing to do. Another option is to state "If Joe is late again he will be subject to further disciplinary action up to and including termination"  However - as I stated previously - be consistent with this wording for all employees.
    • Third offense - final written warning.  Use the same form as above - but change the wording to include that if Joe is late again within the 6 month period- he will be terminated.
    • Forth offense - termination - use the same form and state that this is notice of termination.
  • Your write up form could have a place where you list the three or four levels of discipline with a place to put a check mark for example:
    • First written warning
    • Final written warning
    • Termination
  • Have a place for you, the employee and your witness to sign the form.  If the employee refuses to sign- the write up is still legitimate.  Simply write that the employee refused to sign.  You may want to include a note that the employee's signature is only a statement of the fact that they received the reprimand - not an admission of guilt - this encourages some people to sign. The reason they don't want to sign is because they don't think what they did was wrong and they feel they are admitting guilt by signing.
Following these steps will make your job of disciplining employees less stressful - and will give you the proper documentation you may need if you run into legal problems.  Speaking of legal problems:
Hire a lawyer to review the policies that you write - he or she will be able to tell you if the rules and policies you are putting into place are legal and reasonable.

Stay tuned for more!!

Training is not a one time event...it is an ongoing journey...Learn it...Live it...Pass it on!

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