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HR Question: Disciplining Employees

Question: What are some typical examples of employee discipline? Are there any you recommend?

Answer: Discipline should reflect the severity of the behavior, attempt to correct it, and be applied consistently. You’ll want to consider how you addressed certain behaviors in the past and the precedent you want to set for the future. For instance, if you jump straight to a final warning when a certain employee is an hour late to work, but let another employee come in late regularly without so much as a written warning, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

We generally recommend progressive discipline. This means you start small and work your way up to termination. Progressive discipline often includes these steps:

  • Oral counseling/warning(s)
  • Written warning(s)
  • Final written warning
  • Unpaid suspension
  • Termination

At each step, make your expectations clear, notify the employee of the consequences if they fail to improve (that they’ll be one step closer to termination), and document what actions you took. The warnings you give to the employee should stick to the facts, i.e., what infraction was observed, when it occurred, and what policy or policies were violated. Opinions about the infraction should be left out, as these are easily disputed. For example, “Yesterday, you arrived 20 minutes late in violation of our attendance policy” simply states the facts, whereas “You’re always tardy and can’t be trusted to arrive on time” is likely to get pushback.

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