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How to Administer Employee Discipline

by Erin Schreiner, studioD

Ideally, management would need simply to oversee productive workers, intervening minimally -- and usually positively -- to keep the group heading in the right direction. In actuality, however, intervening with discipline is often a necessary part of the employee management process. If you find yourself in the unhappy position of having to discipline an employee, the way in which you conduct your discipline is important. By following a clear process, you can ensure that your discipline efforts are effective and produce positive results.

Communicate Expectations Regularly

Before you discipline employees, make sure your expectations were clear. If you notice one or more employees not meeting expectations, increase the frequency and clarity of your expectation-related communications. Use memos, performance reviews and day-to-day conversations as tools in communicating these wants, suggests Barbara Richman for the "Memphis Business Journal."

Explore Your Limitations

Before deciding on and dispensing discipline, check your discipline rights. Review your employee handbook discipline section, if such a document exists, to refresh yourself on the discipline rules. If you are still unclear as to your options, speak with your supervisor to determine what you are and are not allowed to do in terms of discipline. This prevents issues that could arise should the disciplined employee seek help for a higher authority. If you are disciplining a union- or contract-protected employee, ensure your discipline doesn’t violate the rules stipulated in union-agreements or the employee's individual contracts.

Select Your Disipline Type

Decide specifically what you want to do to discipline this employee and fully map out your discipline plan before speaking to your employee. If this is the first time you have spoken to the employee, consider a verbal or written warning. If you have addressed this topic before, try something more serious, like a suspension. If you elect to suspend the employee, figure out the details -- including whether it will be paid or unpaid and how long it will last -- before you meet with the employee.

Discipline Swiftly

Discipline must be timely to be effective. If you find that an employee has done something that necessitates disciplinary action, don’t wait. Act quickly so the employee can see that the discipline is directly related to the misdeed. The more time you allow to pass before dispensing the discipline, the more difficult it may be for the employee to see the connection between the action and the consequence.

Present Documentation

Though you may not be required to prove employee misdoing, providing some documentation to bolster your claim can increase the employee’s willingness to accept the consequence. Gather any evidence that relates to the offense for which the employees is being punished, including: performance reviews, sales or financial records or video footage. When you sanction the employee, present your documentation to him. This may entice him to take ownership of the problem and induce him to work towards self-improvement.

Require Employee Acknowledgement

Documenting this discipline is vital, particularly if you are dealing with an employee who is under union- or contract-protection. After presenting the discipline, ask the employee to sign a written notification that discipline was dispensed. If the employee refuses to sign, document this refusal, recommends Richman.


Discipline is a process. You aren’t done after you impose your sanction. Follow up with your employee in the weeks and months following the discipline, specifically monitoring the problem behavior for which the employee was disciplined. If the employee hasn’t changed his ways, repeat the process, this time handing out a harsher sanction.

About the Author

Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.

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