Employee Discipline: The Double Edged Sword of Maintaining Order and Legal Compliance

The number one issue that arises when providing employee discipline training to managers is apprehension over breaking the law. Indeed, managers report that fear of winding up in court over wrongful termination or employment discrimination causes many supervisors and human resources professionals to refrain from taking necessary corrective action when an employee violates company policy. Therefore, discipline without the proper education is the classic double-edged sword: managers know they need to take action, yet are uneducated and afraid to do the wrong thing.

Employee Discipline Training Provides the Legal Foundation, but Managers Must Also Know the Practical Implications of Proper Discipline

Anti-Bullying statutes are becoming far more common across the country, with California and Connecticut already having laws in place. Further, companies like Target are being sued due to the implications of mistreatment of disciplined employees. In a recent case, an employee named Graham Gentles was humiliated after management accused him of stealing from the store. Gentles was was forced to do a “walk of shame” through the store in handcuffs and ultimately committed suicide. Gentles mother has since sued the retail giant for a large sum of money. As the Gentles case shows, the implications of improper discipline can reach far beyond classic employment lawsuits.

Employee Discipline Checklist

The following is a non-exhaustive list of questions to ask prior to imposing discipline on an employee. Further, it is important to encourage your company to schedule employee discipline training so that the company and its supervisors can learn about the various laws impacting the employer’s ability to discipline its employees, and gain context into the information through real-life scenarios.

1. Does the Misconduct Deserve Discipline?

Some infractions like one-time tardiness or failure to clean a minor spill may be so minor that discipline would be counterproductive to the work environment. Therefore, the first question you should ask is whether the policy violation is significant enough to warrant disciplinary action.

2. Is the Rule Violation Related to the Employee’s Job?

If the misconduct in question is wholly off-duty or unrelated to the employee’s job there may be privacy considerations that must be taken into account prior to issuing disciplinary action.

3. Is the Employee on Notice of Company Policy?

All too often employers have unwritten policies or rules. Although the employer may have the right to take its chosen action, it is always a good idea to distribute a formal handbook containing company policies so there can be no question that the employees know the rules. Asking employees to acknowledge receipt and reading of the handbook is also the right thing to do.

4. In Severe Cases, has the Company Followed its Policy of Progressive Discipline (if one exists)?

Employers commonly fall into the trap of skipping steps in the progressive discipline process when significant violations occur. This type of practice can lead to discrimination lawsuits when some employees feel they have been unfairly excessively disciplined.

5. Discipline all Employees the Same for Like Violations

Employees discuss incidents of discipline among themselves. When employees are treated differently in like situations and are members of a protected class they frequently seek legal counsel for discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits. Accordingly, it is always in the company’s best interest to treat like cases of discipline alike unless there are legitimate business reasons for departing from past practice.

6. Document Every Discipline Meeting

The company should have a practice of taking notes of every meeting with an employee that occurs for a disciplinary reason. Further, all incident reports should be kept on file and evidentiary and or witness statements should be documented in writing in the event there is a lawsuit down the road.

Contact Syntrio to Schedule Employee Discipline Training

Although following the aforementioned tips is a good start to maintaining compliance in employee discipline, it remains incomplete. Employers who want to remain compliant with the law and maintain a work environment free from harassment and bullying should contact Syntrio to schedule cost-effective and engaging employee discipline training. Doing so will provide your managers with an effective foundation in the law and further practical guidance on keeping themselves and the company from making mistakes that can lead to costly lawsuits.

Contact Syntrio for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your business!


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