How to Effectively Manage Employee Discipline & Terminations

Managers often find disciplining employees and making termination decisions challenging. Most HR professionals must deal with these sensitive matters from time to time, while ensuring the business complies with a host of employment laws to prevent the risk of a lawsuit. By implementing a clear plan of action, you can prevent making costly mistakes. Here are a few tips for effectively managing employee discipline and terminations to prevent future problems in the workplace and improve your management skills.

Most employees want to be productive and succeed in their jobs, so the proper use of discipline and guidance is important. Each disciplinary and discharge situation is unique and increasingly more complicated, but HR can help things run more smoothly by implementing these best practices. 1

Information Confirmation

Confirming the source of information and verifying facts is very important before you take any disciplinary or termination action. When it comes to an employee’s misconduct, attendance issues or performance problems, make sure you have all the information you need before speaking to the individual. This will prevent you from falsely accusing an employee, which can cause further issues. Confirmation of your facts will help in these challenging situations.

Company Policy

If an employee is being confronted for violating a company policy, make sure everyone involved knows what that actual policy says and what the disciplinary action will be. Also, make sure the employee had a copy of the policy. As some rules may be more obvious, there are others that may need to be reiterated on a more regular basis. Establishing clear rules and employee punishment will implement a predictable and logical sequence— therefore no one is blindsided by the consequences of their actions. For example, does your business have a progressive discipline process through which employees first receive a verbal warning, then a written warning and so on? Are there certain circumstances that are grounds for immediate termination? 1 By defining these rules, you will eliminate surprises on both ends.

Remove Emotion

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Emotion needs to be removed from the decision-making process and approached logically. Have a calm discussion to get to the root of the problem in an impassioned, yet productive way. If you communicate with sensible points and remove emotion from the conversation, you keep the employee from an emotional response. Behaving professionally is often reactive. Your approach sets the bar and lets the employee follow your lead on how to react to the disciplinary or termination discussion. Unemotional confrontation allows the employee to talk rationally about issues and form solutions in a professional manner.2

Have a Witness/Plan

During conversations like these, we advise you to arrange for a witness to avoid miscommunication and possible lawsuits. When a witness is present, the conversation can later be verified if needed— which is very important for all parties involved. In addition, have a plan in place before approaching an employee. Have facts, questions and disciplinary actions in mind before calling them in for a discussion. Make sure you have a private meeting location to avoid any awkward or distracting interruptions during a difficult conversation.

Document Everything

Keep a trail of what happened, including the date, details of the incident and what actions were taken. While it may be time consuming to document an incident, it will be well worth it in the long-run. The last thing you want is to get to the end of your rope with an employee but not have the supporting documentation for termination. In cases of discipline, record all written and final warnings. Be sure the employee signs the completed report for your records.  If they refuse to sign, ask the employee to note that they refused signature. This way you have documentation showing the employee received a copy. 2 In addition, if the employee needs to sign anything regarding a disciplinary action, performance improvement plan or termination, be sure that everything is ready prior to the meeting.

Let Employee Speak

In all disciplinary and termination discussions it is important to allow the employee to speak and share their point of view. Maintain control of the conversation, but allow them to voice their opinion, emotion or apology. This shows fairness and equality for all parties involved. We also recommend conversations are away from other employees so they have the privacy they deserve.

Stay Open-Minded

Remember to stay open-minded to all circumstances. Something may come to light during a termination meeting that may change your decision. Be prepared to suspend an employee, take temporary action or wait until more information is retrieved. No need to jump the gun if you feel the conversation has changed course. This is a high stress situation and you need to make sure you are taking the right actions towards your employee.

It is important to take these helpful tips into consideration when effectively disciplining or terminating an employee. Make sure to hear all sides of a situation and take an appropriate plan of action. HR professionals must keep the safety of the business and their employees top of mind when dealing with challenging conversations like these.

Have more questions regarding discipline and termination best practices? Give us a call or visit our website to learn more.


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