A disciplinary action refers to an action that is given by an employer in response to an employee’s misconduct, behavior, performance, or rule violation. Disciplinary action can range from a verbal reprimand to termination, depending on how grave or severe the employee’s misconduct was.
Why is it important for organizations to take disciplinary action?
Any organization, big or small, works best with employees who conduct themselves properly, respectfully, and professionally. For start-ups and small businesses, one may think that having a disciplinary action procedure in place is too formal. Why would employees behave badly in the workplace? Surely, they must know what is proper and what is not? Although it may seem formal and tedious, having a disciplinary action procedure in place is beneficial. While the purpose of disciplinary action is to correct the misconduct of the employee, having a disciplinary action is also meant to document the incident and protect the business and its employees.
What are examples of disciplinary action?
Disciplinary action can come in many forms. How they are applied depends on the severity of the misbehavior or violation. Here are some examples:
Verbal warning: a common first step to address the misconduct of an employee, a verbal warning is made in private. The manager or supervisor should explain the details of the incident and how this action goes against company policy. The HR team should be informed about the verbal warning.
Written warning: as the term implies, the manager or supervisor should document the incident and corrective action through a written notice or write-up form. A written warning should be detailed and objective. This form should be received and read by the employee and acknowledge receipt by signing it.
Performance improvement plan: a formal document that states an employee’s recurring poor performance issues and the goals and corrective actions that the employee needs to reach. A performance improvement plan has a specific timeframe.
Reduction in rank: also called a demotion, this form of disciplinary action is usually accompanied by a reduction in pay. This process should be done following company policy.
Termination: this is the final form of disciplinary action and is commonly taken after all other forms of corrective action have been attempted and exhausted. However, there may be particular violations that would warrant immediate termination. Again, this will depend on the organization and its policies.
What type of behavior warrants disciplinary action?
The type of behaviors that would qualify as an infraction or a violation of rules will highly depend on the organization. For instance, a financial institution such as a bank will have stricter guidelines for customer service, customer interaction, and dress code compared with, let’s say, a packaging business or a trucking company. Similarly, a trucking company will give more focus on adherence to road safety and regulations.
However, some behaviors are unequivocally unacceptable no matter what industry. The nature of these behaviors should always warrant disciplinary action. Examples are:
Any threat or act of violence against employees and customers
Sexual harassment or any form of assault
Fraud including misappropriation of funds
It is up to the organization whether to follow a disciplinary action plan or to have a zero-tolerance policy. To be clear, an organization needs to have a written policy that deals specifically with the violations mentioned above.
How should organizations formalize rules of behavior for disciplinary action?
Organizations need to be transparent, objective, and upfront about how they expect their employees to behave at work and what to expect if they violate any company policy or rule. Providing a company handbook and training all employees on applicable company policies is important. The company handbook should serve as a guide and reference to all employees, new and old. It should include sections on the organization’s mission, vision, values, policies, and office rules. Furthermore, the handbook must have clear guidelines on disciplinary action procedures. These should also be regularly reviewed for any updates and amendments.
Additionally, conducting anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and conflict resolution training is beneficial. It will give employees coping skills and strategies that they can use to avoid friction in the workplace.
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