Answer: Discipline should reflect the severity of the behavior, attempt to correct it, and be applied consistently. You’ll want to consider how you addressed certain behaviors in the past and the precedent you want to set for the future. For instance, if you jump straight to a final warning when a certain employee is an hour late to work, but let another employee come in late regularly without so much as a written warning, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.
We generally recommend progressive discipline. This means you start small and work your way up to termination. Progressive discipline often includes these steps:
- Oral counseling/warning(s)
- Written warning(s)
- Final written warning
- Unpaid suspension—we generally don’t recommend this, as it’s likely to make the employee more disgruntled than they were before, and ultimately be more harmful than helpful, but you may find that it’s appropriate in some circumstances; be sure to keep reporting time pay in mind for non-exempt employees, depending on state law
At each step, make your expectations clear, notify the employee of the consequences should they fail to improve (that they’ll be one step closer to termination), and document what actions you took. The warnings you give to the employee should stick to the facts, i.e., what infraction was observed, when it occurred, and what policy or policies was violated. Opinions about the infraction should be left out, as these are easily disputed. For example, “Yesterday, you arrived 20 minutes late in violation of our attendance policy” simply states the facts, whereas “You’re always tardy and can’t be trusted to arrive on time” is likely to get pushback.