Elements of a Discipline Program
An effective, comprehensive, and successful discipline program should contain
the following elements:
- Code of conduct. Employees should know the difference between
expected and unacceptable behavior. Ideally, this should be in writing in a
list of basic, general
work rules or an employee handbook
or other material provided to the employee.
- Philosophy. Employees should know what you expect to achieve
through disciplinary action.
- Knowledge of disciplinary punishments. Employees should know the
penalty you will impose for common offenses of the code
- Standardized disciplinary procedures. Employees should know that
the steps and the sequence in which they occur in the disciplinary process
will be the same for everyone. If you put the steps in writing ahead of
time, make sure that you follow the steps that you outline for employees.
Don't include steps in the process that you may not take every time, like
"the company will give an oral warning." There may be times when
an oral warning is not appropriate, but if you include it, employees can
reasonably expect you to take that step regardless of the circumstance.
- Quick response. Employees should expect a quick response to
violations of the code of conduct.
- Appeal procedure. Employees should have the opportunity to voice
their side of the story. While a full-blown appeal procedure may not be
practical, you should at least give them a fair hearing before disciplinary
measures are taken.
- Reservation of rights. If you have a written policy, you should
include a statement that the policy is to be used as guidance and that you
reserve the right to modify the policy in any way should the circumstances
require that you do so. While this statement would not allow you to ignore
your policy, it would notify the employee that there may be circumstances
that will be treated differently. It can also be useful if an employee
disputes the appropriateness of a particular disciplinary action based on
his or her interpretation of the wording of the document.
Ensuring fair discipline. In deciding which approach you'd like to
take, keep in mind that a system that is viewed as fair by the employees who
must live under it is more likely to receive their support and cooperation. A
fair policy also means that discipline must be applied consistently to all
employees in an unbiased way. A fair policy does not mean a lax policy -
discipline can be serious and even harsh, but fair. Fair discipline is also
easier to defend and justify in court, should the need arise.
A basic foundation of fairness in discipline is:
- giving an employee notice that there is a problem
- providing an opportunity for the employee to change behavior, possibly
In this philosophy, the purposes of discipline are to:
- put a stop to the unacceptable behavior
- retain the employee as a productive member of the business
Systems designed to punish rather than educate are much more likely to be
viewed by employees as arbitrary and unfair than those designed to educate and
correct. That's in part because disciplinary systems designed to educate and
correct are less likely to use the ultimate form of discipline - termination
- until after an employee has been disciplined less severely in a series of progressive