Disciplining employees is a necessary matter in every organization, albeit an unpleasant one. Effective discipline can help to correct employee behavioral issues and can increase productivity. Effective discipline will also help to protect your company against wrongful termination lawsuits.

It is important to have a strategically designed discipline policy so that your employees know what is expected and what will happen if they do not meet expectations. Having this degree of consistency will provide your organization with a sense of stability that all of your employees, managers, and HR personnel will appreciate. Using the following steps for disciplinary action can make it easy for you to meet this ideal.

Step 1: Oral Reprimand

Oral reprimands should be given as soon as a manager or employer notices an issue with an employee’s performance or behavior. Oral reprimands should be given tactfully, so that employees understand that reprimands are constructive criticism and not personal attacks. It may be helpful for employers or managers to design a verbal reprimand form so that written documentation can be kept of oral reprimands.

Step 2: Written Warning

If an employee does not respond to a verbal reprimand favorably or begins to exhibit further behavioral or performance issues, it may be necessary to issue a written warning. An effective written warning should detail exactly what the undesirable aspects of the employee’s behavior or performance are, how the employee should correct these issues, and what will happen if the employee does not correct these issues. Employees should be given a copy of the written warning that has been signed by a manager, a witness, and the offending employee.

Step 3: Final Documentation

If an employee continues to exhibit poor performance after receiving a written warning, managers should issue final documentation. When final documentation is given, employees should be shown all other times that reprimands have been given and documented, while managers pointedly explain how they were instructed to act and how they failed to meet the expectations. Employees should understand that they may face termination if the behavior continues, but should still be given a chance to meet the expectations.

Step 4: Suspension with Probation

If an employee still continues to fail to meet expectations after final documentation has been given, you may wish to give the employee one final chance in the form of a suspension with a subsequent probationary period. The probationary period may include a dock in pay, continuous supervision, or retraining efforts. Before an employee is suspended, HR professionals should be consulted.

Step 5: Termination

If an employee continues to exhibit the same behaviors after the suspension period or does not respond favorably to retraining, it is unfortunately time to move on to termination. When an employee is terminated, the final meeting should be in person and the employee should be given documentation and an explanation as to the exact reasons for the termination. If all behavioral issues have been documented every step of the way, the employee should not be able to collect unemployment or file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

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