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Disciplinary Actions for Employee Behavior: What Are Your Options?

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/27/2010

Almost every employer will come across an employee that has behavioral issues at work. Instead of allowing the characteristics to continue, what forms of disciplinary action for behavior problems are legal and allowed at the workplace? Jean Scheid gives some examples.

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    What Is an Employee Behavior Problem?

    Smile 3D Free Digital Photos Basically, in today’s workforce, a behavior problem seen in an employee can be anything from constant tardiness to not reaching assigned goals to simply not performing their job functions. Behavioral problems can also come in the form of more severe actions such as discrimination or sexual harassment and even employee theft.

    Handling these issues is usually done with disciplinary action including written warnings, a change in position, and sometimes termination.

    Let’s look at some examples of various employee behavior problems, and how you, as an employer, should handle these situations.

    Image Credit (Free Digital Photos)

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    Employee Discipline & Warnings Are Legal

    Man Talk Free Digital Photos Most new employers probably wonder about the legality of employee discipline. Well, we’re not talking about pulling out the employee paddle here, because that is illegal. What you need instead is a process to follow that is equal and implemented fairly across the board.

    First, learn how to set up a policy on written warnings by reading my article, Difficult Employees: Why You Need to Document Warnings. In this article you’ll find tips on how to implement an employee warning/discipline process by identifying what is considered a violation of your company policy and then documenting the problem through a written warning system.

    You can also set up how the disciplinary process will work such as:

    • Repetitive (Small) Violations – If it’s consistent tardiness to the workplace or not punching in or out, or leaving early, you may implement a written warning process that’s a "three strikes and you’re out" policy.
    • Severe Violations – If a behavioral problem is with the employee constantly offending others via sexual harassment or discrimination, you need to implement and follow an investigative process. Learn how to set one up and implement one, including termination if needed, in my article, Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. This article is also a good guide to follow for discrimination complaints.
    • Immediate Termination – Some behavioral problems such as the use of drugs or alcohol at the workplace can often mean your other employees are unsafe. It’s totally legal to implement a policy that states that any employee who violates this policy will be terminated. Physical fighting with co-workers or customers and employee theft can also be grounds for immediate termination.
    • Probationary Periods – Some behavioral problems that require discipline can also fall under a probationary period if the violation is something you feel can be worked out. For example, if a person is not performing up to par consistently and you find they need more training or an employee mentoring program, you could issue a warning that details how long the probationary period will be and track their progress.

    Image Credit (Free Digital Photos)

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    Document Everything Equally

    Writing Hand Free Digital Photos Disciplinary action for behavior problems when it comes to employees means you must document everything and every employee who violates a policy should be treated equally, regardless of position. You’ll find a helpful employee warning template in our Media Gallery that can be used for any one of the above situations and it’s best to stick with a uniform documenting process instead of having all sorts of forms and trying to determine when to utilize which form.

    Finally, if you counsel an employee and find the behavioral problems stem from an outside source, consider offering the employee some help. You can do this yourself and promise to be discreet or help them find either paid or unpaid counseling help in your area. If you offer employee healthcare benefits, see if your policy covers this type of help.

    These procedures are not hard to implement, but actually following them is perhaps the one thing new employers fail to do and shouldn’t. Documentation and set policies are often what will save you in the event of an employee lawsuit or if you have to appeal unemployment claim.

    Image Credit (Free Digital Photos)

Managing Employee Disciplinary Procedures

Although most consider it a dread task, it's important to manage employee disciplinary issues and to document any actions taken. Learn how to do this more effectively with this series of articles.
  1. Disciplinary Actions for Employee Behavior: What Are Your Options?
  2. Tips for Handling Employee Disciplinary Procedures
  3. Sample Forms for Disciplinary Action
  4. Documenting Disciplinary Actions: Sample Employee Letters
  5. Tips for Keeping a Record of Employee Disciplinary Acts