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Dealing with Employee Discipline When Performance Is Poor

Published on 11/14/2018 12:00:00 AM
Disciplining Employees When Performance Takes a Hit

Most managers would prefer to never have to discipline their employees. But people are people, with their own agendas, issues and challenges. Because of this, situations can arise that require managers to confront and correct ineffective, inattentive and insubordinate employees.

Below are five steps to properly handle the sticky matter of employee discipline – without the heated confrontations, hurt feelings or even threat of lawsuits.

Step 1: Identify the employee’s performance problem

Is the issue a lack of competence or expertise? Or is behavior a concern? The former suggests an inability to meet the goals or standards of a job position. The latter refers to less than professional conduct, such as frequent tardiness, dishonesty or insubordination.

Keep in mind that you must be able to document exactly how the employee is falling below expectations, including specific examples, before you approach him or her. Line managers should also consult with their own manager and/or HR professional before taking any action.

Step 2: Know - and mind - the laws

To steer clear of personal and workplace liability, you must be absolutely certain you are not reprimanding the employee for something that is permitted by law or company policy. If, for example, your employee has been taking too much time off from work, make sure he or she is not entitled to FMLA coverage or any other accommodations. If the employee is eligible, learn what you need to do to comply and then follow through.

Step 3: Thoroughly document the issue

To repeat, you must document everything regarding employee performance and conduct concerns. Under most laws, if the issue isn’t captured in writing, it didn’t happen.

If you’ve been keeping a performance file on each of your direct reports, you should have a sufficient number of examples of the problem (or problems) you’re dealing with. Along with those examples, you must also provide:

  • Statement of your expectations (with goals and dates for improvement)
  • Consequences of continued failure
  • Schedule for follow-up discussions
  • Memo for the employee to sign, acknowledging he or she understands the consequences of his or her actions and the goals of the improvement plan

You should also record any other relevant details from the meeting for reference.

Step 4: Use a progressive discipline approach

Progressive discipline is a technique rooted in the belief that “problems” are a learning opportunity. Each step in the process encourages change, accompanied by increasing consequences for failure. These steps may include verbal counseling (which should be documented in the employee’s file with dates and details), an initial written warning, a second written warning, and finally, if no improvement has been made and consequences have been stated, termination.

Keep in mind that progressive discipline is not sufficient in every situation, and company policy should allow management to address serious disciplinary matters in other, more immediate, ways.

Step 5: Know when termination is appropriate

In certain cases, a situation may be so severe and/or dangerous than you can end the work relationship immediately. A few zero-tolerance scenarios where on-the-spot firing is warranted are: threats or acts of violence, failure to follow safety measures, per training; and vulgar outbursts with religion, racial, ethnic or gender-based slurs. There are additional steps you’ll need to take to handle a firing properly (and in these instances, safely). Check out the free e-guide, How to Fire an Employee Legally and Fairly for expert direction on this sensitive subject.

Easily Record and Track Employee Performance Issues

The Progressive Discipline Smart App helps you document and address employee issues promptly and appropriately. It allows you to gather key details for constructive conversations with employees, as well as create a history of repeat offenses. Following the steps in this article -- and using an online tool like the Progressive Discipline app -- ensures consistency, proper documentation and, most important, protection from potential legal disputes.

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Jaime Lizotte
Presented by: Jaime Lizotte,
HR Solutions Manager
Hiring, recordkeeping, time and attendance tracking, employee discipline, filing 1099 and W2s ... all of these tasks create overhead expenses and detract from revenue-generating activities.