Employee Discipline

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Preserving “At-Will” Employment Status & Terminating Employees with Confidence

Discipline

Discipline of employees often gives rise to employment litigation. The following general guidelines for dealing with employees with disciplinary problems may help employers avoid litigation. Employers should have clear disciplinary standards and evidence that employees were given notice of such policies and procedures. These standards must be applied uniformly. The company should retain the right to determine what discipline will be imposed in each individual situation. The disciplinary procedure should follow four rules:

* The employee must know the nature of the problem.
* The employee must know what he or she must do to fix the problem. * The employee must have a reasonable period of time in which to fix the problem. * The employee must understand the consequences of inaction.

Employers must create a discipline policy that will not limit their right to enforce appropriate disciplinary measures. The law requires employers to match the discipline to the seriousness of the offense. The challenge for employers is how to reconcile being consistent in the application of discipline, but still take into consideration the specific facts which tend to make each disciplinary incident unique. Evaluate these 4 criteria when determining the most effective level of disciplinary action:

1. The severity of the offense.
2. The employee’s past performance record.
3. The employee’s length of service with the organization. 4. The organization’s past practice when dealing with this situation.

Progressive Discipline

Progressive Discipline is defined as a series of disciplinary actions or steps that are progressively more severe leading to improvement of performance or termination from employment. It is usually a set of circumstances or warnings – three strikes and you’re out.

The primary purpose of progressive discipline is to assist your employees to understand that:

* An opportunity exists for improvement or,
* A severe performance problem may exist

Companies should consider using the progressive discipline system. The progressive discipline system normally begins with the recruitment process and continues through orientation, training, performance evaluations and daily supervision. A progressive discipline system consists of the following:

* A verbal warning
* A written warning
* Suspension
* Termination

Misconceptions about progressive discipline!

There are many misconceptions concerning progressive discipline. Many employees feel they are entitled to disciplinary measures prior to being terminated. In most cases where at-will employment is the rule, progressive discipline is not a RIGHT; but an opportunity, offered by the employer, to correct performance on the job.

It is not a RIGHT unless promised in an employee handbook, collective bargaining agreement or a public, municipal employer.

“At-Will” is the law

“At-will” is the law in every U.S. State (excluding Montana). Employment is at-will unless the employer has taken some type of action to introduce a different policy in the workplace of for a particular employee.

An employment relationship for no specific duration may generally be terminated at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all, at the will of either the employer or the employee. The phrase "at-will" is just another way of saying "at the will of either party." In other words, at-will employment means, "the job will last as long as both parties wish it to continue and it will end when either party wants it to end."

Accordingly, under at-will employment, the employee is not guaranteed a job for any specific period of time. The employment contract between the employer and the employee (any agreement regarding the job, pay, benefits, duties, etc.) can end at any time. Simply put, the employer may terminate the...
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