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When Should the Formal Discipline Process Start?

If this seems a slightly odd question, please be patient with me. It’s a very common one, perhaps surprisingly so. The truth is many employers are not really sure when to roll their sleeves up and get stuck into the management of employees who are not consistently meeting standards.

Let’s be clear. Employers should start disciplinary action as soon as they have concerns about work performance, conduct or absence. In determining whether there are workplace concerns, it’s a very simple question. Ask yourself: “Do all of my employees meet all of my reasonable standards nearly all the time?” If the answer to this is “No”, you need to take action.

Discipline doesn’t have to be formal in the first instance, but a failure to meet standards should be identified, noted and correction given promptly. How will employees improve if you don’t draw it to their attention?

Don’t feel “mean” or be put off by claims of harassment. Something employers often seem to overlook is that managers have not just a right but a duty to guide and correct employees who do not meet and maintain the organisation’s standards and requirements.

We often have clients come to us saying that they have had enough of an employee (usually with long service). A red mist has descended and they just want to get rid of him. If they try and do too much, too quickly in that state of mind, that’s when things go wrong. When we ask what has been done to manage the situation previously, the client usually says that there have been a number of informal discussions, but nothing is noted and no formal action has been taken. It means we have to start at the beginning because with no proper history of correction any tribunal would view this employee as a model employee, no matter how far from the truth that might be.

So when exactly do you need to take action? Poor performance (where an employee can’t do the job satisfactorily) is by the far the biggest source of complaint – a drip, drip, drip of minor concerns that erode time, profits and patience. It’s very draining. The types of things that indicate there is a poor performance issue are as follows.

  • The quantity of work produced is low.
  • The work may be correct but the work rate is too slow.
  • There are regular mistakes in the work.
  • The work quality and/or quantity is inconsistent.
  • There are preventable accidents.
  • The quality of the output is not good enough.
  • There are failures to meet expectations for product quality, cost or service.
  • Work methods are inappropriate or poor.
  • There are complaints from colleague/ customer dissatisfaction/ complaints.
  • There is a high level of or regular spoilage and/or waste of materials.
  • Work methods are inappropriate or poor.

Poor performance can be difficult to identify, especially when the problems are minor, but a failure to identify and deal with issues can lead to toxic results.

Misconduct (where an employee won’t do the job satisfactorily) is easier to identify. The following are very typical lists of minor and more serious misconduct.

Example of minor misconduct:

  • unauthorised absence;
  • poor time-keeping;
  • failure to observe safety regulations;
  • misuse of the organisation’s property;
  • refusal to follow a reasonable management instruction;
  • failure to comply with the organisation’s policies.

Examples of gross misconduct:

  • dishonesty, theft, fraud, deliberate falsification of records;
  • negligent or malicious damage to the organisation’s property;
  • theft from or violence to employees or other third parties, including malicious damage to their property;
  • obscene or indecent behaviour or sexual misconduct or the circulation of offensive material;
  • serious aggressive or offensive language or behaviour;
  • bullying or any form of discrimination which is unlawful and/or conflicts with the organisation’s policies and procedures;
  • serious breach of security or of financial procedures;
  • serious breach of trust and confidence;
  • incapability whilst on duty brought on by alcohol or illegal drugs;
  • being in the possession of illegal drugs in the workplace;
  • severe breach of health, safety and hygiene rules or acting in a manner dangerous to others;
  • behaviour bringing the organisation into serious disrepute;
  • gross negligence;
  • failure to adhere to the requirements of the Bribery Act;
  • gross insubordination.

Most cases are minor matters, for example, being late to work, unauthorised use of a mobile phone at work, unsatisfactory job performance, so an informal chat may be all that is needed to get the employee back on track. This discussion, even though informal, should be both structured and noted and a copy of the discussion notes given to the employee. During the informal conversation tell the employee what you expect of him, what he is currently doing that is not satisfactory, providing examples and the evidence underpinning your view and agree how he will meet and maintain the expected standards. Agree to review the matter with him in a few weeks’ time. Tell him that if there is little or no improvement you reserve the right to deal with the matter formally

Don’t keep having lots of little matey chats. Be pleasant, firm and fair. At the same time, show you mean business. If by the time it comes to reviewing the matter the employee is not meeting the expected standards it is then time to deal with it differently. Escalate it to the first stage of the formal process sooner rather than later – and that’s the subject for another blog!

So ....... do all of your employees meet all of your reasonable standards nearly all the time? No? Call us. We’ll help you sort it out.

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