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Disciplinary action is used to improve performance or conduct issues, prevent reoccurrence, and provide employees with the opportunity to improve. Depending on the circumstances, disciplinary action may involve:

  • Counseling
  • Verbal warning
  • Written warning
  • Termination

Find out how to develop and implement a disciplinary action policy and effectively administer disciplinary action.

 

Take certain steps to minimize the likelihood of performance or conduct issues, such as clearly communicating workplace rules and setting clear performance goals. Consider the following:

  • Establish and communicate clear guidelines. Make sure employees are aware of company rules, procedures, and expectations. Consider distributing an employee handbook that includes this information and supplement with meetings/trainings.
  • Establish clear performance standards. Ensure employees are aware of performance targets and what they need to do in order to attain results. Set goals that are understandable, measurable, and obtainable.
  • Ensure accountability. Hold employees accountable for their performance and behavior.
  • Provide frequent feedback. Provide regular constructive feedback and address minor problems before they get out of hand.

Depending on the circumstances, disciplinary action may involve:

  • Counseling
  • Verbal Warning
  • Written Warning
  • Termination

Counseling:

Counseling is typically the most informal and least severe form of discipline. Counseling involves a conversation between the supervisor and employee that focuses on a specific incident, a particular aspect of an employee’s performance that needs improvement, or the employee’s overall performance or conduct. These discussions provide a constructive way for supervisors to provide their employees with feedback to help avoid the need for future disciplinary action. Counseling sessions should be documented.

Verbal Warning:

Verbal warnings are often used for first time offenses and/or minor infractions. A verbal warning is more severe than counseling because it is generally tied to potential consequences if the behavior or performance issue continues. When administering a verbal warning, clearly communicate the specific problem or issue and how it impacts the company. Let the employee know how they can improve and provide a timeline for following up. Confirm understanding and document the meeting.

Written Warning:

A written warning is typically used for repeat offenses or more serious infractions. A written warning should include a description of the problem, steps the employee agrees to follow in order to correct the issue, a timeframe to improve, and consequences for failing to do so. Obtain a signed acknowledgment from the employee. This documentation should accompany a verbal discussion with the employee.

Termination:

When an employee’s performance or conduct fails to improve, or when the employee has engaged in gross misconduct, termination may be necessary. Before terminating an employee, make sure you have the appropriate documentation to support your decision and that termination is necessary and appropriate, given the facts and circumstances.

Depending on the circumstances, an employee’s actions may warrant an investigation. Generally, workplace investigations involve the steps outlined below:

Interview the Complainant

Conduct an initial interview with the complainant to understand the allegations and to determine whether the issue can be resolved informally or whether a formal investigation is necessary. Ask about the frequency of the occurrence(s), what happened, where it occurred and when, and the names of any witnesses. Be sure to inform the complainant that:

  • The company does not retaliate against employees for filing complaints or participating in investigations
  • The company, to the extent possible, will maintain confidentiality and limit the disclosure of information to those with a legitimate need to know
  • The company will investigate and address the complaint in a timely manner and that his/her continued cooperation in the investigation will be necessary to reach a resolution

Interim Actions

Some situations might require interim actions before you initiate an investigation (for example, allegations of sexual harassment, violence or criminal misconduct). If this is the case, you may have to suspend the employee until the investigation is completed. Consult legal counsel under these circumstances.

Interviewing the Accused

Inform the accused of the allegation. Tell him or her that it is extremely important to provide you with any facts or information that may help you resolve the issue. To help get the full and accurate story:

  • Start with broad questions and move to narrow questions
  • Ask who, what, when, where, how and why type questions
  • Ask follow-up questions to confirm understanding and make sure you have the correct details
  • Ask for any other information or documentation that may assist you in reaching a resolution

Interviewing Witnesses

Start by explaining that you will be conducting an investigation and let him or her know that the company will not engage in retaliation for their participation. Additional guidelines include:

  • Let the witness know that you will not make any conclusions until all of the facts have been reviewed and analyzed
  • Limit your questions to the details that you have been told they know about. Do not volunteer other information
  • Keep the witness focused on what they personally observed or heard

Making a Determination

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Were company policies violated? How clear and well published are those policies? Was the violation a serious offense?
  • How has the company handled similar violations in the past?
  • Has the accused violated any other policies in the past?

Do not take action against an employee if the results of the investigation are not clear, or inconclusive.

However, if a policy violation has been found, remedial action should be taken to rectify the situation.

Meet with the employee who raised the issue to inform him or her of the outcome. Do not tell the complainant too much about the exact discipline taken. Follow-up after the investigation to make sure the remedy was effective.

Create an Investigation File

Create a final investigation report summarizing the investigation and your findings and recommendations. The final investigation report should include:

  • Reason for investigation
  • Names of witnesses interviewed and dates interviewed
  • Witness summaries
  • A list of each allegation, related findings, and the conclusion you reached
  • A recommendation for appropriate action, with respect to each allegation

Store the report in a separate investigation file along with a written communication from the employee raising the issue, if provided, as well as interview notes and supporting documentation. The file should be marked “Confidential” and kept separately from personnel files. In the event of litigation, this file may need to be produced.