Employee discipline is one of the most commonly discussed issues in any organization, whether it is union or non-union. It is a matter that management must deal with on a day to day basis, and remain mindful of the consequences that can arise if not dealt with properly. It has been noted that about 40 percent of most grievance cases involve how discipline was carried out.
According to the text and several articles the discipline action is likely to be challenged by unions, employees and various government agencies. Historically employee discipline has come a long way. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, employers were able to discipline harshly. Employees could be burned, whipped and publicly humiliated by employers for wrong doings. In 1920 Frederick Taylor had a theory of scientific management that stressed the financial impact of discharging employees in an illogical manner.
In 1935 the Wagner Act shaped management’s disciplinary policies, making it a crime to discipline employees because off their union relations. This is when the National Labor Relations Board (NJRB) was formed to enforce the accountability of management actions against employees. Beginning in 1940 to the present the managerial policies on employee discipline has grown and developed the course of labor arbitration with three broad powers given to arbitrators. These powers are 1. ) to determine what constitutes “just cause” for discipline, 2. to establish “standards of proof and evidence”, 3. ) to review and modify or eliminate the penalty imposed by management when warranted. Most nonrepresented employees fall under the “employment-at-will” common law doctrine, which permits an employer to discharge and an employee to leave at any time for any or no stated reason. Employee Discipline Under the employment-at-will doctrine there is the public policy exception which states that “an employee is wrongfully discharged if and when the discharge is inconsistent with an explicit, well established public policy of the state.
There is also the implied contract exception which occurs when “an employer and employee form an implied contract, even though there is no express, written instrument regarding employment relationship. ” Then there is the covenant-of-good-faith and fair dealing which means that “the employer personnel decisions are subject to the “just cause” standard, prohibiting terminations made in bad faith or motivated by malice.  The present day disciplinary systems are designed to discourage problematic behavior and to quickly correct problems when they are discovered. It is up to the direct supervisor of employees to maintain and document infractions in a timely manner. Management of any organization has a right to expect and maintain a safe and orderly place of business. There should be written sets of rules to govern the conduct that is expected from employees.
The guidelines set by government agencies such as the EEOC and the NLRB for the fair treatment of employees and their discipline must meet the “just cause” criteria which is that there is clear and convincing evidence that a disciplinary offense was committed, that the disciplinary action taken by management was appropriate and that the discipline was not discriminatory. Accordingly management has the right to direct the work force and facility in the most efficient yet safe way for both employer and employees. Employee Discipline Discipline can improve an inefficient operation as long as the discipline is in line with the occurrence.
Organizations should follow through to set an example of the appropriate behavior it expects, transmit rules it wants to be followed, promote efficient production, maintain respect for supervisors and assume that an employee can correct their behavior and allow them to try. The best practice that an organization could use for employee discipline would be the progressive series. The progressive discipline program impresses on the employee the seriousness of their infractions and provides the opportunity for the employee to make the proper corrections with the last result being termination.
Most organizations today use the progressive discipline program, unless the offense is atrocious, such as stealing, selling or using drugs or alcohol, setting fire to the workplace or physical violence to a fellow employee or supervisor which would be cause for immediate dismissal. The steps in the progressive discipline are in an increase of penalty cycle. The first step is an oral warning where the employee in an informal manner is instructed in the correct behavior. The second step is a written warning this is when the oral warning is documented and placed in the employee’s file.
The third step is suspension this is written as well as a day or a few days of unpaid time off. This also goes in the employee’s file. The final step of dismissal form the company is when all of the before hand steps have not changed the employee’s behavior. It is usually a last resort and the employee and the employer are both aware of this fact. If and when all steps have been properly taken and documented this final step is hard to file and win a grievance against. Employee Discipline In the employee discipline area there are five sins of discipline, noted by author Robert Bascal.
He summarizes that many managers believe the word discipline has to do with punishment, when it really pertains to improving an employee’s performance through a process of assisting the employee to be more effective. Robert identifies five errors managers are prone to do while issuing discipline. Error one is discipline as punishment which applies negative sanctions; this can bring about resentment, counter-attacking, and elevate the training that should be in the forefront in the discipline process.
Error two is I-You confrontation, managers see discipline as something done TO an employee, not something done with an employee. Discipline needs to be a “we process” for it to be effective. Error three is too late, too late where managers are too slow to respond to an emerging problem. It sends a message that undesirable behavior will be accepted or goes un-noticed. Error four is a non-progressive approach, when managers delay actions for a period of time and then when discipline measures are taken it seems harsh to the employee and coworkers.
Least forceful actions should be taken early on instead of what will appear as an immediate harsh action. Error five is missing root causes; when a manager leaves the employee on their own to figure out a solution, the employee may not even realize they have a problem or that they are the problem. This is a basic if you don’t know that it is broken you can’t fix it! Managers have to address the root cause of a problematic employee, and then try to help them improve. Employee discipline is a day to day part of management’s responsibilities.
Managers must be made aware of the organizations policies and be able to administer to their employees in an orderly and fair process. Managers deserve respect as well as employees, when having to discipline or retrain an employee.