Special Topics in Safety Management

Employee Discipline: Essential Considerations

Yesterday we explored the benefits and drawbacks of using carrots (rewards) or sticks (punishments) to motivate safe employee behavior. But sooner or later, discipline will be needed, so today we’ll look at the key elements of a disciplinary procedures policy.

When an employee’s performance is below expectations or his or her conduct on the job is unsafe or otherwise not acceptable, the supervisor or manager must act promptly to correct the situation. Acting promptly means communicating with the employee so that he or she is aware of the problem and what must be done to correct it—and possibly imposing some kind of sanction or disciplinary action.

While it may sound simple, disciplining employees is one of the hardest things a supervisor or manager must do. BLR’s Essential Safety Policies says that focusing on the following goals can help:

  • Rehabilitation—helping the employee improve job-related performance
  • Correction—giving the employee an opportunity to correct unsafe or other inappropriate conduct in the workplace or violations of workplace rules, such as coming in late to work, swearing, or excessive personal phone calls
  • Termination—removing the employee from the workplace because his or her conduct is so unsafe or disruptive that it cannot be tolerated

Is your disciplinary procedures policy bulletproof? If not, we have one that’s already written and ready to use, along with every other safety policy you’re likely to need, in BLR’s Essential Safety Policies. Examine it at no cost and with no obligation to purchase. Get details here.

Legal Issues

Essential Safety Policies also recommends that you consider the following legal issues before imposing discipline:

Discrimination—Inconsistent discipline can lead employees to believe that unlawful discrimination has occurred.

Retaliation—Disciplining employees who have complained about unlawful discrimination or who have reported illegal acts may lead to claims of unlawful retaliation.

Contracts—A discipline policy may inadvertently create an employment contract. Request that your company counsel review your policy.

Unions—A collective bargaining agreement may restrict your disciplinary policy.

Points to Cover

There are numerous points that your disciplinary procedures policy should cover. Here are just a few, cherry-picked from Essential Safety Policies:

  • In deciding on an appropriate disciplinary measure, you may want to consider the employee’s past performance, length of service, absenteeism and tardiness records, the employee’s ability to correct conduct, action taken with respect to similar conduct by other employees, any effect on customers, any effect on fellow employees, etc.
  • Include some advice for supervisors on how to administer discipline. For example, don’t discipline a worker in front of his or her co-workers. And have another supervisor present as a witness when you are taking serious disciplinary measures.
  • Define the responsibilities of and authority granted to the supervisor, the department head, the Human Resources manager, and anyone else directly involved in implementing the policy. Who should be asked to advise or consult when a supervisor is in doubt about the appropriate steps to take?

Other Things to Consider

There are myriad other considerations in formulating a disciplinary procedures policy. Here are a few that should be at the top of your list:

Union contracts—Union contracts usually restrict what disciplinary measures can be taken. Review the relevant portions of the union contract carefully and, when appropriate, invite a union representative to sit in on your sessions with the policy committee.
Supervisory discretion—The burden of administering most disciplinary procedures usually falls to the immediate supervisor. The amount of latitude that supervisors are granted in deciding on discipline will depend on how much management trusts their judgment.
Consistency—Inconsistent discipline is dangerous. Even if warranted, disciplining a member of a protected class may be hard to justify when it represents an unprecedented attempt to crack down on substandard behavior.

Get the safety policies you need without the work. They’re in BLR’s Essential Safety Policies program. Try it at no cost and no risk. Find out how.

This is just a small sampling of the detailed guidance provided by Essential Safety Policies. In addition to the topics touched upon above, the book (also available as a download) provides a sample disciplinary procedure policy complete with additional or alternative provisions, a sample employee warning notice form, and a 12-question supervisor’s checklist.

Take these kinds of materials and multiply them by more than two dozen key safety topics, and you’ll know why Essential Safety Policies is such an indispensible tool for busy safety professionals. These policies provide a ready-to-modify or use-as-is safety handbook for all your workers, with minimal effort on your part.

The policies are backed by a tutorial on policy writing and essential materials such as handbook receipts.

If your organization could benefit from supplementing (or perhaps having for the first time) a complete set of ready-to-use safety policies, we highly recommend a 30-day, no-cost, no-obligation look at this program. Go here and we’ll be pleased to send it to you.