Best Practices for Employee Discipline & Termination
One of the most uncomfortable aspects of being a supervisor or manager is having to discipline or terminate an employee. No matter what you do, conversations about employee performance are almost always hard. After all, no one wants to feel like they're being the "bad guy," but sometimes it's a necessary part of being the boss. And as the boss, it's important to remember that you are an extension of your employer: everything you do or don't do, say or don't say, in your capacity as a manager or supervisor is seen as a reflection of your employer. Understanding what you can and should do when it comes to reprimanding and terminating employees is critical to performing your role effectively. Below, we've outlined some best practices for employee discipline and terminations.
Prior to making a decision to take disciplinary action:
- Check the handbook.
Odds are, your company already has a disciplinary policy in place, and it's right there at your fingertips in your employee handbook. Always refer to this policy before taking disciplinary action. Should any legal action be taken against an employer, the first thing a judge will look at are the company's written policies and procedures.
- Get the facts (all of the facts) before taking action.
Don't just rely on the word of someone else - talk to everyone involved in order to determine if disciplinary action is appropriate. If possible, it's best to attempt to witness misconduct (particularly if it's ongoing) for yourself, firsthand.
- Maintain a record.
Documentation is an employer's (and a supervisor's) best friend in these situations. Having a record or running log of instances of misconduct is vital should you need to defend your actions in the future. Make sure to include dates, what happened, a description of the incident/infraction, and other pertinent information.
When taking disciplinary action:
- Be consistent.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind when disciplining employees is to "treat similar violations similarly." If you write up one employee for something, it's crucial that you write up other employees who violate the same policy. Inconsistent enforcement of company policy is not only unfair, but it can also be grounds for legal action.
- Don't put it off.
You should endeavor to address misconduct as soon as possible. While it may not make sense to immediately bring the issue up if you're in front of other employees or customers, it's always best to take the next available opportunity to address instances of poor or inappropriate conduct. Delaying disciplinary action sends the message that the behavior is tolerated.
- Meet in private.
Anytime you meet with an employee to discuss performance (positive or negative), you should always do so privately, away from their peers and co-workers. It's also a good idea to have a witness present - either your direct supervisor, or someone from HR.
Progressive discipline is a performance management strategy in which supervisors employ progressively more severe penalties for misconduct. Generally, there are four stages of progressive discipline: coaching/counseling, written warning, suspension/final warning, and termination. Employers may choose to have more than four stages (like including an extra step between coaching and the written warning to include a verbal warning). Whatever mix an employer decides to go with, the stages should all be documented and the progressive discipline strategy should be applied uniformly to all employees.
Sometimes, however, it becomes necessary to terminate an employee. In these cases, it's very important to ensure that you have all of your ducks in a row, so to speak. You'll want to collect and review any and all documentation of the employee's performance and ensure it's consistent with your decision to terminate the employee. (If all of the employee's past performance evaluations are positive, and there is no other documentation regarding poor performance or misconduct, this may prove problematic if the employee decides to pursue legal action.) If you have a human resources team within your company, always make sure to consult them before terminating an employee.
Striking the right balance between being a great manager employees like and respect and one that is effective can be difficult, especially when it comes to handling issues of misconduct or poor performance. Supervisors who incorporate the best practices listed above will not only be one step closer to finding that balance, but will also be better equipped to prevent explosive confrontations (like this one).
Want to learn more about best practices of disciplining and terminating employees? Check out the recap of our August 2015 webinar presented by one of G&A's senior HR advisors!
As a leader in the HR outsourcing industry, G&A Partners has the expertise and resources growing companies need to effectively manage employee performance and handle instances of misconduct. G&A's team of HR professionals can help you avoid missteps and costly mistakes by working with you to develop human resource policies and tailor procedures to fit your company and promote your vision and values.
To learn more about how G&A Partners can help your organization, call 866-634-6713 to speak with an expert or visit gnapartners.com/contact today to schedule your free business consultation.