The ABCs of Effective Employee Discipline

Carrying Out Effective Employee Discipline

The ABCs of Effective Employee Discipline

Is your discipline process clearly spelled out for employees and for managers? Do employees understand the potential consequences of missing work? Are managers consistently applying your policies across the board? Do you practice effective employee discipline?

Many companies underestimate the impact of creating and applying a fair discipline process until it’s too late. Employee morale can suffer when workers feel like favoritism takes the place of fairness and teamwork. Worse yet, when policies aren’t clearly defined or managers don’t apply them equally; companies can be faced with wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuits.

One of the most common issues relating to effective employee discipline involves absenteeism. A company’s response to absenteeism should be handled consistently by the managers in every department. To do so, there are steps every company should take to create a proactive approach to tackling the problem.

Policy is the foundation for effective employee discipline

Companies sometimes overlook the positive effect of creating fair and reasonable workplace policies, including how discipline is administered. To ensure that discipline is being applied fairly, employers should start with an effective and comprehensive discipline program. That usually involves creating a code of conduct and a disciplinary procedures process. It’s important to let employees know what is and isn’t acceptable at work. It’s also important to convey the consequences of their failure to adhere to work standards or codes of conduct. Issues of attendance and absenteeism should be particularly be addressed in the employee handbook or through other material provided to the employee.

Many companies have a “progressive” process whereby employees may be given verbal, written or other warnings, leading up termination when employees miss too much work. In most workplaces, the goal of progressive discipline is to give an employee the opportunity to correct their behavior. Many employees don’t realize the impact of their absence. But through coaching and some discipline, employees are frequently able to change their behavior and improve their performance.

Absence management policies should be customized to a company’s specific work environment. There’s no one-size-fits-all policy, and so while some companies’ framework dictates a somewhat rigid absenteeism policy, other companies find it beneficial to be more flexible. Policies should address the specifics of defining an “absence”. For example, in some companies, being more than 20 minutes late is considered an “absence”. In others, absences are calculated in half-day increments.

Employment law can vary from state to state so employers should have their policies reviewed by a lawyer before implementing them. It will help ensure that policies are legal and discipline is appropriate. An attorney will also ensure that at-will policies and other disclaimers are carefully worded to avoid contradicting any progressive discipline policies put in place.

Additionally, absenteeism policies should be clear and manageable for payroll and other departments to effectively administer. In some cases, software limitations can pose a challenge to documenting absences. All of these things should be taken into consideration as a company is implementing or modifying their disciplinary policies.

Train your managers to be leaders

A crucial step in providing an effective employee discipline management policy it to train managers on the “do’s and don’ts” of absence discipline to ensure disciplines are applied consistently. Managers should be trained on how to handle various scenarios, including coaching and determining an appropriate punishment.

Managers should understand that showing repeated deference to an employee, or a group of employees, could have serious, and costly, consequences. And, it can be helpful to educate or remind managers that applying discipline consistently can improve morale. Managers need to be trained on the importance of documenting every step they take in the discipline process.

In union environments, all managers should be especially well-versed in the disciplinary process of their collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  A failure to follow the process listed in the CBA may result in reinstatement of terminated employee.

Document Document Document!

HR professionals and employment lawyers are quick to point out that lawsuits are commonly won or lost based on the strength of their disciplinary documentation. For that reason, managers should also be trained on the importance of documenting every step they take in the discipline process and how to do it correctly.

For companies following a progressive discipline policy, the process normally begins with a conversation about an employee’s absenteeism. Often, after the initial meeting, the employee will reduce their absences. Communicating with the employee directly shows that missed work is taken seriously, and employees are given the chance to correct their behavior. If verbal conversations don’t seem to effect change, other types of discipline may become necessary. For that reason, managers should be trained on the steps they should take to document any form of discipline. Even verbal warnings should be documented and included in the employee’s personnel file.

Taking the simple step of documenting the discipline, and having the employee sign it, helps avoid the messiness of leaving the employee wondering where things stand with regards to their employment. By taking the extra steps to document personnel problems, companies can avoid or overcome legal issues that may arise from an employee complaint.

While discipline is a challenge all companies face, employers who take the time to develop a clear and comprehensive policy can limit legal their concerns and provide a fair and productive work environment to employees.

Through our Hosted Solutions, we can help you establish a protocol that will not only help reduce your absenteeism and tardiness issues but also limit the time your management and human resources team are overseeing your discipline cases.   Your company will then have the flexibility to shift its focus on other core areas of your business.  If your company has specific business rules or technology limitations, Cagrus has implementation specialists on hand ready and willing to work with you to overcome those challenges in the best and most cost effective way possible.

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