Best Practice: Employee Discipline and Negative Feedback

Best Practice: Employee Discipline and Negative Feedback
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Defining the Rationale

When it comes to finding the hands-down best practice, employee discipline frequently derails because it is poorly defined in scope and intent. A human resources department must decide which types of worker discipline it will institute across the board – examples include coaching sessions with a supervisor, ongoing mentoring by a seasoned worker, written warnings and dismissal – and the types of infractions (and their frequency) that merit them.

To this end, it is worthwhile to follow the suggestions from the Society for Human Resource Management(1 ) and highlight problem areas of conduct that require action:

  • Inappropriate conduct while at work (i.e. drug or alcohol abuse, theft of company property, offensive communication in spoken or written word)
  • Inappropriate appearance in the workplace (i.e. facial tattoos or piercings, revealing clothing choices)
  • Inappropriate behavior on or off company property (i.e. fighting, sexual innuendo or harassment, ethnic or religious intimidation)
  • Failure to perform according to benchmark standards (i.e. piece quota, call resolution, sales minimums)

Defining and Communicating the Rules

A basic employee manual is a must-have for any business. It should include a dress code policy, attendance rules, behavior expectations, forbidden practices while on company time and also performance requirements. In addition to these steps there has to be a clearly outlined coaching or discipline procedure. These processes must apply to all workers equally.

For example, a first infraction results in a verbal warning and supervisor coaching while a second infraction may merit a first written warning and peer coaching. A third failure to adhere to the rules set forth in the employee manual could result in a second written warning and subsequent probationary period; at this time one more infraction – of any kind – could lead to immediate dismissal.

It is interesting to note that the National Food Service Institute(2) refers to this practice as “hot stove” discipline, which is immediate, consistent and impersonal.

Nuts and Bolts of Employee Discipline

Although in theory all parties involved are adults and should act accordingly, there are plenty of strong emotions and tempers involved in the workplace. Discipline an employee while being extremely mindful of maintaining the worker’s confidence, dignity and workplace confidentiality.

  • Investigate the infraction. Do not let the word of just one onlooker be your guide to a disciplinary action. Give a worker the benefit of the doubt until you are proven wrong.
  • Discuss the situation with the worker in private.
  • Build a case against the worker that involves some research into other workers’ files with similar infractions. If nobody else in the company receives a write-up for being tardy, neither should the worker in question.
  • Enlist the help of an uninvolved human resources department member to sit in during the discipline session. This ensures impartiality and heads off allegations of verbal abuse, bias and a failure to follow the rules of the employee manual.
  • Document the meeting in writing and request that the worker sign off on the paper in acknowledgement – not necessarily agreement – of the facts.

Remember that when it comes to implementing the best practice in employee discipline, consistency and equality in treatment are paramount. With clearly defined ground rules present, this step is a lot easier.



Photo Credit:

“Worker” by Wilfredor/Wikimedia Commons at

This post is part of the series: Employee Disciplinary Actions

What does it take to effectively discipline a workforce? Is it possible to be lawsuit-proof while concurrently weeding out ineffective workers? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ – if you know the steps to take.

  1. Best Practices Regarding Employee Discipline
  2. Tips for Tracking Personnel Development
  3. Drafting an Employee Attendance Policy
  4. Guide to Drafting a Business Dress Code Policy
  5. Employee Letter of Reprimand: Free Example to Download