Discipline and Disciplinary Procedures in Employment


Discipline refers to a condition in the organization when employers conduct themselves in accordance with the organization’s rules and standards of acceptable behaviour.  However, not all employees will accept the responsibility of self-discipline.  Such employees therefore will require some degree of extrinsic disciplinary action.

Types of Discipline Problems

  1. Attendance – Absenteeism, tiredness, abuse of sick leave etc.

Why attendance such as serious problem?

  • Many organizations have failed to align workers goals with those of the organization.
  • A changing attitude towards employment. For many work isn’t their central life interest and hence the desire to conscientiously be in their jobs regularly is not of primary importance.
  • Increased difficulty in firing an employee especially those union members protected by collective bargaining agreement.
  1. On the Job-Behaviours

For example insubordination, fighting, carelessness, abuse of alcohol and drugs etc.  The above represent clear violations of an organization acceptable standards of behaviour.  Thus corrective action should be taken immediately.

  1. Dishonesty

For example theft, falsified information (lies).

  1. Outside

These are activities that employees engage outside of their work but which either affect their on-the job performance. For example, unauthorized strike activity, having one’s wages garnished, outside criminal activities.

Before disciplinary action: Put the problem in perspective:

The following nine contingency factors have been proposed to help analyse a disciplinary problem:

  • Seriousness of the problem
  • Duration of the problem
  • Frequency and nature of problem
  • Employees’ work history
  • Extenuating factors
  • Degree of socialisation
  • History of the organization’s discipline practices
  • Implications for other employees.
  • Management backing.

General guidelines in administering discipline:

  • Make disciplinary action corrective than punitive.
  • Make disciplinary action progressive

Disciplinary Actions

Disciplinary generally follows a typical sequence of four steps:

1) Oral warning

This is the mildest form of discipline. This reprimand is best achieved if completed in a private and informal environment. The manager should begin by clearly informing the employee of the rule that has been violated and the problem the infraction has caused.

  • After the problem and the implications arising thereof have been made clear by the Manager, the employee should be given a change to respond giving emphasis to; is she aware of the problem? Are there extenuating circumstances that justify her behaviour? What does she plan to do to correct her behaviour?
  • The Manager must determine if the employee has proposed an adequate solution to the problem.
  • If this hasn’t been done, then the Manager will need to consider direct the discussion toward helping the subordinate figure out ways to prevent the trouble from recurring.
  • Once a solution has been agreed upon the Manager should ensure that the employee understands what if any follow-up action will be taken if the problem recurs.
  • If the oral warning is effective, further official disciplinary action can be avoided.
  • If the employee fails to improve, the manager will need to consider more severe action. A final point on the oral warning: its good idea to make a temporary record of this reprimand and place it in the employee file.
  • It should state the purpose, date and outcome of the interview with the employee. Once the employee has demonstrated that she has corrected the problem the record of the oral reprimand can be removed from the file.

2) Written Warning

The second step in progressive discipline.

In effect, its first formal stage of discipline procedure since written warning becomes part of the employees official file. This is relieved by not only giving the warning to the employee, but sending a copy to the personnel department to be inserted in the employees permanent record.

The employee is advised of the violation, its effect and potential consequences of future violations. The only difference with the oral warning procedure is that the discussion concludes with the employee being told that written warning will be issued.

Then the manager writes up the warning stating the problem the rule that has been violated, any acknowledgement by employee to correct her behaviour and the consequence from a recurrence of the deviant behaviour.

3) Suspension

  • This is the next step taken only if the prior steps have been implemented without the desired outcome.
  • Exceptions – where suspension is given without any prior written warning. Occasionally occur if the problem is of a serious nature.
  • A suspension may be for one day or several weeks. Disciplinary layoffs in excess of a month are rare.
  • Some organizations skip this step completely because it can have negative consequences for both the company and employee.
  • For example if a suitable replacement isn’t located, the organization performance is severely impacted.
  • The suspended employee may return in a more unpleasant and negative frame of mind than layoff.
  • However, a short lay off, without pay has the potential to be a rude awakening to problem employees.
  • It may convince them that management is serious and shock them back to accepting responsibility for following the organization’s rules.

 4) Demotion

If suspension hasn’t been effective and management wants to strongly avoid dismissing the problematic employees demotion may be an alternative demotion.

Its not commonly used because it tends to demoralize the employee but her co-worker as well.

If the demotion has a place as a disciplinary action, it probably is where:

  • the employee clearly has the ability to perform her job
  • management perceived itself legally or ethically constrained from firing the employee (for example one with 30 years of tenure in the organization)
  • it’s believed that a blatant demotion will awaken the employee

In such instances, emotion is a loud message that the employee will have to shape up radically if she wants her old job back and that management has no intention of letting her get away with chronic abuses of the organization’s rules.

5) Pay cut

  • This approach usually has a demoralizing effect on the employee, but it has been suggested as a rational action by management if only other alternative is dismissed.
  • From the management’s perspective dismissal means losing the individuals experience and background.
  • A replacement will be hired in at a lower salary, but has to be trained to do the job.
  • If the problem employee alters her behaviour, then pay cut can always be reinstated.

7) Dismissal

Management’s ultimate disciplinary punishment is dismissing the problem employee.

Dismissal should be used only for the most serious offences. Yet, it may be the only feasible alternative when an employees behaviour is so bad as to seriously interfere with a department or the organisation operation.

A dismissal decision should be given long and hard consideration.

Being fired from a job is an emotional trauma. Thus, the management should consider the possibility that a dismissed employee will take legal action to fight the decision.

Disciplining Special Employee Groups

a) Unionised employees

Where employee belong to a union, there will be a collective bargaining agreement. This agreement among other things, will outline rules governing the behaviour of union members.

It also identify disciplinary procedures and clarify the steps members are to follow if they believe that they are receiving arbitrary or unfair treatment.

Most collective bargaining agreements stipulate that employees can only be disciplined for `just cause and provide a grievance procedure and opportunities for third party arbitration if employees believe they’re wronged.

Disciplining a unionized employee thus tends to be a more formal than the disciplinary of non-union employees.

b) Professional Employees

Engineers, computer specialists, accountant, and medics also present unique disciplinary problem. Because they hold high skills and frequently possess important and valuable information about the organization.

They are more difficult to replace if dismissed and can discredit the organization with competitors, suppliers, customers, government agencies or other constituencies.

Thus, management must take greater care in disciplining professional employees than it might take with non-unionised operative employees.

They may explain the replacement of traditional dismissal actions with the practice of declining and offering outplacement services.

Declining seeks to get the employee to voluntarily quit. If the employee isn’t performing adequately and corrective, attempts have proved unsuccessful, management can begin sending out clues that the professional services are no longer needed.

Excluding the employee from important meetings, by passing her on key memos and reassigning her to boring and unchallenging tasks are examples of actions that should convey the message.

If they’re successful, the employee finds another job and gives her notice.

This saves the employees and organization face.

Outplacement counseling is usually provided to the professional by her employers for the purposes of assisting him in marketing his services (designing & updating one’s resume, making lists of contacts, coaching on how to go on interviews an advise on how to follow up on leads and how to evaluate any job offers that are received.

In contract to declining outplacement requires management to become a partner in helping the professional find new employment. Its expensive for the organization but a definite step forward in humanistic treatment of employees.

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