Making discipline stick

Virtually every employer will need to discipline employees from time to time. The reasons for discipline vary. It may be for poor performance, or it may be for a rule violation. It may even be simply to send a message about behavior or actions the employer wants to curtail or discourage. Whatever the reason, for discipline to serve its purpose and, more important, for you to avoid the legal pitfalls that can accompany improper or sloppy disciplinary actions, it is critical discipline be administered and documented properly.

Why be concerned?

Many employers view discipline as their prerogative. And discipline often is seen as warranted "punishment" for something an employee did or failed to do. Missing from this line of thinking is the reality that disciplinary action exists not merely to punish but to change employee behavior or reinforce work rules and standards of conduct.

Disciplinary action also provides a useful measure of proof against claims of discrimination or unfair or unlawful treatment. For example, let's say you terminate an employee for violating the company's attendance policy. The employee may claim he didn't know the policy existed or didn't appreciate the fact his latest absence could result in termination. He may claim the real reason for his termination was because of his race or age or because he recently complained about an allegedly unlawful practice within the workplace.