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Disciplinary Protocols for the Workplace

by Ralph Heibutzki

Every employer needs a firm set of ground rules to ensure that people are treated fairly. Discipline protocols are the employer's road map for dealing with employees who break the rules. Most companies favor a progressive model, which allows the employer to tailor the penalty according to the circumstances. However, no matter what type of system prevails, the employer must implement it consistently, so that employees know exactly what they can and cannot do.

At-Will Employment

Defining status is part of any discipline protocol. In most cases, companies hire on at-will basis, which means the relationship can end any time, for any reason. An employee acknowledges this status by signing a statement when he's hired, the HR Hero website states. For maximum flexibility, an employer will also include a disclaimer stating that any disciplinary system may be modified at management's discretion. This type of language maintains the at-will approach, even when a company follows a progressive discipline system.

Internal Investigations

At times, an investigation may be needed to establish the level of an employee's alleged misconduct. Companies should have well-defined procedures for handling such investigations. Relevant issues include who will oversee the work, and if any specialized assistance is needed from forensic auditors, private investigators and other outside professionals, the University of British Columbia's website states. In most cases, an interview of the employee involved in the misconduct is advisable, even if the evidence is overwhelming. Except in rare cases, discipline should never occur during the interview process.

Progressive Discipline

Most employers opt for a progressive discipline system. This approach works best for behavioral issues, which result in increasingly severe sanctions, according to Rutgers University's human resources department. The first step is a discussion of the problem with the employee, in which advice and guidance is the goal. If no improvement results, or the response is insufficient, a formal written reprimand follows. Persistent misconduct can be addressed through suspension without pay for a short period, followed by termination of employment.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

Aggravating and mitigating factors help your employer decide what kind of discipline applies. Mitigating factors include your length of service, positive performance appraisals and any awards that you've received. A shorter tenure, prior job performance problems and unsatisfactory evaluations would count as aggravating factors against keeping you on the job. How you respond to the issue also matters. Acknowledging the problems may win you a reprieve, while hints of denial or deceptiveness could trigger your dismissal.

Other Considerations

Performance issues are usually treated differently than misconduct problems. In other words, if you can't perform the essential functions of your job, your employer may not bother to implement a progressive approach. Instead, he may attempt to improve your performance through coaching and training, and then review the situation after a reasonable time period passes. If you're still not meeting the objectives for your position, the company will probably move to terminate your employment.

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