Though it’s an uncomfortable subject, discipline in the workplace is often necessary. Companies need a disciplinary action policy. Before moving forward with implementing this type of policy yourself, it is important to understand what a disciplinary action policy is, when you might need one and how to develop one of your own.
A disciplinary action policy identifies and standardizes procedures for responding to incidents that go against company policy. A well-written disciplinary action policy clearly states your company’s rules and the consequences that happen if those rules are broken.
Your disciplinary action policy should include the following six components:
“Include language that the policy is a guideline, not an absolute,” Michael Coles, owner of The Coles Firm, told Business News Daily. “Employers should reserve the right to upgrade or downgrade discipline in the face of aggravating or extenuating circumstances.”
A disciplinary action policy identifies and standardizes procedures for responding to incidents that go against company policy.
Disciplinary action in the workplace is any response to misbehavior or rule-breaking at work. All workplace rules should be outlined in your company handbook. Disciplinary action can range from a verbal or written warning to suspension or even termination, depending on the severity of the infraction.
“A disciplinary action policy is a framework for how an employer views various transgressions by employees and how the employer typically responds to them,” Coles said. “It highlights what infractions are considered worse than others and outlines the possible discipline an employee might face.”
A workplace disciplinary policy provides employees with clear guidelines for expected conduct and what consequences they can expect if the rules are broken. A disciplinary policy also:
Many behaviors can warrant disciplinary action, which is why you must outline all unacceptable behavior in the employee handbook. This helps avoid any confusion and potential legal action that could be taken by the employee claiming their behavior was not expressly prohibited. Behavior that may warrant disciplinary action at work can include:
The three main types of discipline available to employers are progressive discipline, retraining and performance improvement plans (PIP), and reassignment or suspension.
Progressive discipline is the most traditional form of workplace discipline. The severity of the corrective action is raised if an employee fails to correct the issue. It is a popular approach because it helps shield employers from legal action from the employee. However, this approach may not work for every employee. Rather than increase the severity of successive disciplinary actions, perhaps you may want to provide additional training or rehabilitative elements to improve the situation. The steps of a progressive discipline policy are as follows:
A firm and clear verbal warning should be given when an employee first breaks a rule. Explain why the behavior was wrong and express an expectation that the behavior does not occur again.
“From experience, the most effective disciplinary action is a verbal warning from the highest authority,” said Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP. “It conveys the seriousness of the issue, and employees tend to take a warning from the boss seriously.”
A written reprimand or warning is more detailed. It describes what the issue is, how the employee is expected to change their behavior to fix the problem and the consequences that will occur if they do not. The warning should be signed by their manager, a witness, and the employee and stored in the employee’s file. You can issue multiple written warnings before progressing to the next step of the disciplinary process.
This warning should state all the times the employee was warned and the corrective action that was, or was not, done to improve the behavior. It should clearly state that termination follows if there is no improvement.
A disciplinary suspension or probation is the final step before termination. It provides the employee with one last chance to improve their behavior. You can choose to implement check-ins or measurable goals at this point, reduce the employee’s pay, or enact closer supervision.
This step is taken when all others have been exhausted. Here, you have a face-to-face meeting with the employee and review all applicable documentation of the issue, including all warnings, training documents, and notes and explain that the issue has not been fixed, and, therefore, the employee is being terminated.
A PIP and training are rehabilitative approaches that seek to correct the issue using check-ins, measurable goals, and a plan in place if the employee does not meet outlined goals. This form of discipline may also end in termination.
“The best disciplinary action could be to hold a one-on-one meeting with the employee to address each problem on a more personal level,” said Adil Ashraf, head of human resources at MotionCue.
This action is typically used in response to serious behavioral issues or in cases of severe conflict, where the employee can no longer remain in their position but termination is not an appropriate response. Reassigning the employee is a rehabilitative approach that requires retraining, and a suspension is a punitive approach that requires a certain condition be met before the employee can be reinstated.
The three main types of disciplinary policies are progressive discipline, retraining and PIP plans, and reassignment or suspension.
Before you begin drafting your company’s disciplinary action policy, decide on the goal you want to accomplish with the policy. Do you want to take a punitive or rehabilitative approach? How can you make the rules and consequences as clear as possible to your workers? Once you have your answers to these questions, there are six steps to drafting a disciplinary action policy:
Here are three helpful templates and examples you can use as you create your company’s disciplinary action policy.