How to discipline an employee

How to discipline an employee

Asking a trusted mentor for guidance through the discipline management process builds the confidence of a new or anxious supervisor. Disciplinary meetings are difficult conversations, even for the most seasoned executive. In fact, feeling uncomfortable is a sign that you are a caring and invested manager. In a small business, you may be unable to find a suitable mentor who can accompany you to the meeting or provide assistance with the disciplinary decision itself. In this case, proper preparation is critical to help you handle the discipline with confidence.

Find out the facts. Gather all the information so you are not surprised by an unexpected discovery during the meeting. For example, don’t accuse an employee of being absent without official leave without checking to see if he got permission from anyone else that day.

Discuss your plan of action with the ultimate decision-maker, if someone other than you will have the final say. The knowledge that your decision will be supported by company management — and won’t be overturned later — will help you remain confident, even if the employee challenges the decision or your authority.

Prepare talking points for the discussion. List the key issues you want to cover during the meeting, to act as a cheat sheet in case you become flustered. Bring copies of any materials you plan to refer to during the disciplinary meeting, so that the employee can see exactly what you are talking about.

Stay on track. Don’t engage in an argument or allow yourself to become derailed. Think of all the possible arguments the employee might make and how he will try to deflect the issue. Practice re-directing the conversation. For example, if an employee tells you, “This isn’t fair! You’re picking on me!” respond with, “Everybody has to follow the rules. Your actions violated our company policies and resulted in significant liability to the organization.” If the employee tries to shift the focus onto others, saying, “Everybody does it!” reply, “Policy violations will not be tolerated. I’m not aware of any other incidents, but if you are, I encourage you to tell me about them after this meeting. Right now we are focusing on your behavior and the rules you broke.”

Remain calm and take your time. If you are confronted with unexpected information, or the employee’s side of the story raises other issues you had not considered, don’t be afraid to stop the meeting and get back to the employee another time. Tell the employee you will need some time to look into the additional information he has raised and set a date to follow up with your final determination.

Base your decision on the facts and circumstances of the specific case. Consider past practice, policy and the principles of progressive discipline, but don’t lose confidence if the specific incident is not written in your policy, or if the particular situation has not happened before. Recognize — and be prepared to explain — that a range of actions may be reasonable and appropriate, depending on the individual factors involved.

  • Salt Lake Community College; The Delicate Art of Managing Complainers; July 2005
  • Employment Practices Update; Building Confidence for Discipline and Termination Decisions; Michael J. McCall
  • Florida International University: Feedback & Coaching
  • University of California, Berkeley; Discipline and Termination; Gregorio Billikopf
  • Behave with ethics and integrity. Carefully consider the disciplinary action you will take — and consult with human resources professionals or an employment law attorney if necessary — to check you are treating the employee fairly. Take mitigating factors into consideration. By taking the time to consider all the issues, you can be confident that you are doing the right thing.
  • Don’t surprise the employee with disciplinary action. Meet with him each and every time an incident occurs, and put him on notice immediately if his performance is not meeting expectations. Don’t lump numerous different incidents into one meeting; this will be a more difficult situation to manage. By dealing appropriately with minor issues, you can build up your confidence in handling bigger disciplinary issues while also increasing your chances for success.
  • Know when to end the meeting. Don’t get drawn into repetitive arguments. Instead, end the discussion if it becomes unproductive.
  • Understand that the employee will be upset and frustrated. Listen to the employee and don’t take his venting personally. This does not mean you have to tolerate verbal abuse; end the meeting if the employee becomes overly disrespectful.
  • Ask a witness to accompany you, alert building security in advance, or schedule a meeting in a neutral, secure location if you have any concerns about the employee’s potential reaction.

For more than a decade, Tia Benjamin has been writing organizational policies, procedures and management training programs. A C-level executive, she has more than 15 years experience in human resources and management. Benjamin obtained a Bachelor of Science in social psychology from the University of Kent, England, as well as a Master of Business Administration from San Diego State University.

Today’s workforces are increasingly flexible. They often consist of part-time contractors and full-time employees. They include workers who have no plans for staying for more than one or two years. Some staff work from home, often coming from a different country with different cultural norms. Multigenerational workforces are more the norm than the exception.

Maintaining a cohesive workforce, especially among department and project workers, requires creating and maintaining discipline in both personal and professional behavior, explains human resources (HR) software firm, Your Safe Hub. Understanding how to keep employees in line without causing morale problems will help you maintain discipline in the workplace.

Define What Discipline Is

The first step in maintaining discipline in the workplace is to define what you mean by it. Talk to other managers and supervisors and ask them what employee discipline problems they’ve experienced in the past – or continue to experience – and how they handle them.

Discipline can cover areas such as:

  • Attendance
  • Deadlines
  • Dress code
  • Personal time use in the office
  • Personal use of company assets
  • Company processes and procedures
  • Harassment
  • After-hour texts and emails
  • Substance use
  • Gossip

If your company has an employee handbook or company policy guide, review it and write down all areas that refer to employee behavior so you can revisit these with your subordinates. These manuals often cover federal and state rules and laws governing workplace behavior.

If your company doesn’t have an employee handbook, meet with your HR department and get their recommended rules and regulations. Get as much of this as possible in writing so that you can protect yourself in the event of a lawsuit against you by an employee or if you have to use a company termination procedure.

It’s difficult to maintain discipline unless you apply all rules the same way for all employees, warns the productivity team at Time Doctor.

Prepare Your Team’s Guidelines

After your talks with your fellow managers and HR, write a list of problems you’re experiencing with discipline or want to head off. This might become your employee’s code of conduct. Write a list of examples of bad behaviors or practices so your staff clearly understands what you’re talking about and sees how your solutions will help.

For example, you might want to let staffers know that sending after-hours texts and emails might not be a problem for the sender, but they can stress recipients who are trying to enjoy time with friends and family.

Let workers know that if they don’t regularly check team communications platforms that you’ve set up on platforms such as Slack or Google Docs, they can cause delays in the entire project that their fellow coworkers have to deal with. Set some guidelines for after-hour communications and work-hour socializing.

Communicate Your Expectations

Once you’ve done your research and put together your plan for maintaining discipline, communicate it to your staff. Make sure you get approval from HR before you send anything.

You might want to start with a written memo employees can read, think about and digest before you hold an in-person or video meeting. Try not to come off as telling your team you feel you need to institute disciplinary guidelines because they have not been professional.

Instead, tell the team that you want to make sure you head off any bad behaviors in the future so that you can continue to enjoy the good working environment you’ve all had up to this point. If this is not the case and employees have complained about a lack of leadership or coworker respect, address this situation and present your memo as a way to get things back on a more professional level.

Give some make-believe scenarios dealing with gossip, tardiness, harassment or “visiting” other workers during the day. Employers might feel that everyone likes a break to chat now and then, but this it often leads to situations like disrupting a coworker who is on a roll at her computer.

Communicate Corrective Measures

No employee should ever be surprised when they are disciplined. They should know what the company rules are and what will happen if they break the rules. Let employees know what will happen if they show a lack of professionalism in the office. This can include verbal, then written warnings. Be specific about what will trigger a termination. Give your employees an opportunity to come to you privately to discuss how other coworkers are disrupting the office.

  • Your Safe Hub: 8 Ways to Maintain Discipline in Your Office
  • Time Doctor: How to Maintain Workplace Discipline (2021 Guide)
  • When interviewing an applicant for an open position, based on her resume, professionalism, demeanor and perceived work ethics, you might be able to tell whether she is a good fit for the company or whether she might be a problem.
  • Include the code of conduct in your employee handbook, which should be concise and to the point. If the handbook is too bulky, employees might not want to read it. If you do not have a HR department, hire a workplace consultant to help you draft policies relating to discipline.
  • Before you fire an employee for misconduct, make sure it is legal. Consult with HR, an employment attorney or workplace consultant if you are unsure. If the violation relates to drug or alcohol abuse, federal or state law might recommend or mandate that you allow the employee to select a drug treatment program over termination.

Steve Milano is a journalist and business executive/consultant. He has helped dozens of for-profit companies and nonprofits with their marketing and operations. Steve has written more than 8,000 articles during his career, focusing on small business, careers, personal finance and health and fitness. Steve also turned his tennis hobby into a career, coaching, writing, running nonprofits and conducting workshops around the globe.

How to discipline an employee

When an employee’s conduct or performance becomes an issue, an effective disciplinary process can help correct the problem and prevent it from reoccurring. The following are some guidelines for preventing and responding to performance and conduct concerns.

Before Problems Occur:

Take steps to help prevent problems from occurring, such as clearly communicating workplace rules and procedures so that employees know exactly what is expected of them. It is a best practice to maintain an employee handbook for this purpose. In addition, provide feedback regularly and inform employees of performance expectations when setting goals and conducting performance reviews. Employee and supervisor training can also help prevent workplace issues.

When Performance and Conduct Issues Occur:

Despite your best efforts to maintain a positive, productive work environment, issues do occur. When they do, handle the situation promptly, fairly, and consistently.

  • Assess the whole picture. Before you take disciplinary action against an employee, make sure you have a full understanding of the issue and that you have an accurate and impartial assessment of the employee’s performance. Review the employee’s goals and reflect on previous performance discussions. If the issue is related to alleged wrongdoing in the workplace, you generally have a responsibility to conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the allegations.
  • Comply with nondiscrimination laws. Avoid judging the employee’s performance based on any protected factors. For example, various federal, state, and local laws provide job-protected leave to employees. If an employee takes leave under one of these laws, adjust performance expectations to account for the leave. For instance, if an employee is expected to make 100 sales within six months, but takes three months of job-protected leave, his or her sales target should be reduced to 50.
  • Determine the form of discipline. If you determine the employee violated your performance or conduct standards and disciplinary action is appropriate, decide what form of discipline to take. Consider the severity of offense, the employee’s past performance and conduct, and how you have treated other employees in similar situations (to ensure consistency). Employee discipline can take many forms, including but not limited to:
    • Counseling and training. Typically the first step in the disciplinary process, counseling generally involves a conversation between the supervisor and employee. Make sure you document counseling discussions, including the date and substance of the conversation. Training may be appropriate when the employee is failing to meet job expectations because of a missing or underdeveloped skill.
    • Verbal warning. A verbal warning is generally tied to potential consequences if the behavior or performance issue continues. Document verbal warnings and store the documentation in the employee’s personnel file.
    • Written warning. A written warning involves more formal documentation of the conduct or performance problem, including the steps the employee agrees to follow in order to correct the problem, the timeframe with which the employee is expected to improve, and consequences for failing to do so. Have the employee sign the written warning and retain it in his or her personnel file.
    • Suspension and termination. These are the two most serious forms of discipline and are generally limited to serious performance or conduct issues or repeated failure to improve performance. Given the impact and risks of suspensions and terminations, consider requiring that these decisions be reviewed by upper management, human resources and/or legal counsel.

    Disciplinary Meetings:

    Once you have decided on the form of disciplinary action you will take, conduct the disciplinary meeting. Here are some general guidelines and best practices:

    • Keep it private. Hold the discipline meeting in a private location, away from co-workers.
    • Have a witness. Have the employee’s manager conduct the meeting with another company representative present as a witness.
    • Be straightforward. While it may be helpful to remind the employee of their strengths, remember the purpose of the discipline meeting is to pinpoint and improve upon poor behavior. To accomplish this goal, tell the employee exactly what the problem is, what steps he or she must take to correct it, and the consequences of failing to do so.
    • Remain calm. The employee may respond with anger, intimidation, complaints, blame, silence or an unwillingness to acknowledge the problem. Remain calm, regardless of the employee’s reaction.
    • Be respectful. Let the employee know that you want him or her to improve and that you are willing to help. Provide the employee with an opportunity to respond and make sure to listen to his or her concerns. Remember to be sensitive to the employee’s feelings and be constructive in your use of criticism.
    • Explain impact to the company. By explaining how an employee’s misconduct or performance affects the company, you are focusing attention on the welfare of the business, rather than on the employee’s personal attributes.
    • Work with the employee to find a solution. Explain that you are trying to help the employee improve their performance or behavior. This approach allows the employee to view the situation as an opportunity to succeed, instead of feeling he or she has been set up for failure.
    • State the consequences. Be clear on the consequences if the employee fails to improve. At the conclusion of the meeting, confirm that the employee has fully understood the purpose of the meeting and the expectations for improvement.
    • Provide employees with an opportunity to comment. Give employees the opportunity to comment and ask them to acknowledge the discussion in writing. While the employee may not necessarily agree with the disciplinary action, their acknowledgment serves to document that the employee has received and reviewed the notice of disciplinary action and cannot later allege that he or she was unaware of the problem.

    After the meeting, follow up with the employee and look for improvements in performance or behavior. If their performance has not improved, further disciplinary action may be necessary.


    While delivering discipline is difficult for any employer or manager, an effective disciplinary process is necessary to ensure a fair and productive work environment.

    Disciplinary actions or reprimands are unfortunately a part of working in corporate America.

    Like it or not, there will be times when it’s necessary to discipline an employee, whether for performance issues or behavioral issues.

    We’re here to make the process as painless as possible. Continue reading to learn when it’s appropriate to write up an employee and what steps you can take to discipline an employee in a sensitive way.

    What are the steps to discipline an employee?

    In some cases, verbal and written warnings aren’t enough to create the change you desire from your employee(s). Your organization, specifically the Human Resources (HR) department and involved managers, should have a discipline process in place to address performance and behavioral issues and use these steps to discipline an employee.

    If you haven’t created a disciplinary process yet, you can create a flowchart in Lucidchart that matches the level of offense with the appropriate disciplinary action. Get started with the template below.

    How to discipline an employee Disciplinary Process Template (Click on image to modify online)

    Most companies use these four types of discipline in the workplace:

    1. Verbal warning

    When an issue arises, a serious conversation should take place between the manager and the employee. This conversation can take up to an hour in order to ensure the employee understands the severity of the situation.

    Reiterate the expected behavior or performance, and explain how the employee’s current behavior or performance isn’t measuring up to that expectation. Lay out the facts in a straightforward way, so the employee doesn’t feel that they have been subject to bias, and give the employee the opportunity to explain things from their perspective.

    Explain to the employee that you have taken note of the conversation and, if the employee doesn’t show improvement, an official written warning will be submitted to HR. The conversation should be documented with the date, time, and location, as well as the topic of conversation and any agreed-upon terms.

    2. Written warning

    If the problem persists, conduct a second conversation and fully document the interaction. The employee should be presented with reasons why their behavior is problematic and how and why it is expected to change.

    Include what the issue is (or what occurred) and ways to fix it. Additionally, you’ll want to include all expectations moving forward and possible consequences for inaction—as well as a clear timeline for meeting the expectations. Provide the employee with a copy of this written warning and provide another copy of the documentation to HR.

    3. Suspension and improvement plan

    The third step in an employee discipline process involves asking the employee to leave the office and develop an action improvement plan (AIP) or progress improvement plan (PIP). Give the employee a final chance to step away and reflect on what happened, as well as to decide if they want to make the effort to improve. Review the improvement plan and make changes where needed. If the employee in question fails or refuses to create an improvement plan, take steps to terminate employment.

    As part of your action improvement plan, you and your employee may want to map out milestones that the employee is expected to achieve. In Lucidchart, you can use a timeline to clarify dates and goals.

    How to discipline an employee Employee Improvement Timeline (Click on image to modify online)

    4. Termination

    If you have followed the steps above, and if the employee still hasn’t show progress or continues to repeat unacceptable behavior, this final step in the employee discipline process should not be a surprise to any of the involved parties. The preceding three steps require detailed documentation which, in and of itself, should make the case for a successful termination. Additionally, after an employee is terminated, take steps to make sure that you and your co-workers don’t face similar issues in the future.

    How to write up an employee

    Figuring out when and how to write up an employee can be tricky. Different issues require different levels of discipline:

    • Minor offenses warrant conversations, restating of expectations and standards, and informal discussions on how to work towards improvement.
    • Moderate offenses should result in a verbal warning, followed up by a written warning if improvements have not been made.
    • Serious transgressions can trigger a suspension, and the company’s HR department should conduct an investigation into the action (or actions) that caused the suspension. Depending on what’s uncovered during the investigation, the offending employee may be terminated.

    Addressing behavior concerns and doling out discipline is never fun, but you can follow these guidelines to keep things as cordial as possible:

    Keep consistent

    No one is exempt from the rules. Behavior that isn’t tolerated from one employee should not be tolerated from another. Apply the same process to every situation, regardless of the position of the employee in question.

    Be specific

    Back up complaints and issues with specific examples, such as “Marnie clocked out early on August 4, August 18, and August 20.” Without concrete examples of when the alleged behavior occurred, your organization may have a hard time defending their disciplinary decisions.

    Document clearly

    Note the specific policy or company procedure that was violated and include the date and time of the infraction.

    Remain unemotional

    Do not engage on a personal or emotional level with the employee involved and refrain from drawing conclusions or making assumptions.

    Present consequences

    Establish firm, fair consequences of what will happen going forward if the behavior or performance doesn’t change. “Without improvement in communication, employee will be put on an improvement plan.”

    Get a signature

    When possible or as needed, ask the employee to sign the write-up so there is evidence that they were involved in the process. If the employee refuses to sign, make a note of it and get HR involved.

    Allow time for a response

    Give your employee the opportunity to respond to the actions taken, whether in writing or in a verbal conversation. Document the response.

    Documentation is key when it comes to disciplining an employee. Use a fact-based approach that focuses on the behavior, not the employee as a person, and record specific examples and instances of inappropriate conduct. The same standard and approach should be deployed across the company.

    Reprimanding an employee is never an easy feat, but you can require improvement from employees without damaging your working relationships when you set clear expectations for appropriate behavior. Depend on Lucidchart as you develop a consistent process for disciplinary action and employee improvement.

    Employee discipline is an unavoidable aspect of performance management. When done right, it can turn a slacker into a star performer. Typically, the process to discipline an employee in the workplace begins with effective communication, wherein the manager shows the right amount of trust, and gets the employee to handle workplace conflict. There are many approaches to employee discipline.

    A more effective approach is one that relies on setting workplace expectations. This begins by introducing some form of disciplinary measure, whether formal or informal, one that carries grave penalties for repeat offenders. Effective employee discipline is futile the manager’s role in disciplining an employee is negligible. Therefore, organizations must ensure that managers take an equal amount of responsibility in performing these steps effectively.


    To sum up all the necessary steps in employee discipline, here’s what a manager needs to do: 1) Compare organization’s rules with employee behavior to determine what corrective measures should be taken; 2) Collect sufficient proof that the employee did break the rule; 3) Determine what corrective action needs to be taken – whether ‘formal’ or ‘disciplinary’; 4) Carefully document whatever action needs to be taken. Below is how to discipline an employee at work:

    How to discipline an employee

    First and foremost, employee discipline begins by introducing some form of disciplinary measure, whether formal or informal, one that carries grave penalties for repeat offenders. (Image Credit: Freepik)


    Discipline to an employee can be attained by revealing the workplace rules and procedures. This includes the dos and don’ts at work. The employees should be conveyed that following the dos will attract the appreciation and trust of the managers which could help them a successful career and support accomplishments at the workplace. On the other hand, the don’ts will attract dissatisfaction of the managers which may be followed by regulatory and disciplinary action against the employee causing harm to their interest and sustenance objectives in the organization.

    The code of conduct, privacy norms, employment conditions, and other related information is required to be conveyed to the employees so that they avoid taking actions that are considered inappropriate. The various laws like the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), National Labor Relation laws, Civil rights, Company policy, Disciplinary actions, and related information are needed to be informed to the employees to get into their knowledge upon the dos and don’ts at the workplace.

    An additional attempt of displaying the rules and regulations about the workplace along with employee’s code of conduct can be made to attract the attention of employees and help them recall them at regular intervals.


    The warning is the oldest and much-used method that is used to discipline an employee. The warning can be made in verbal or written or both methods. The use of verbal warnings can be made to alert the employee on making the first mistake thereby allowing him/her a chance to improve without getting into the notice of the authorities. The written warning is given when the employee is alerted on a particular action and so are the concerned authorities. The written warning can be considered as a final warning and the disciplinary action follows if the same mistake or rule-breaking is done by the employee.


    An employee can be disciplined by offering training, education and development programs. These programs could help the employee get educated and aware of the company policies, procedures, and code of conduct, expectations of employees and other related information. Moreover, this could help the employee to learn ideal ways and methods to perform better on the job position. Once the employee understands, he/she can apply an ideal way of working and behaving at the workplace.


    A meeting with the employee by the manager can consist of the discussion on their performance appraisal and thereby reporting them with the outcomes. It helps in connecting their actions with the outcomes. They are also alerted that they are under scanner for their actions and outcomes. Thus an attempt could be made to help them improve themselves to maintain their existence within the organization. This way reporting about performance review and suggestion of applying ideal discipline at work are both can be made to the employees in the meeting.

    This way the above methods could help to discipline an employee easily and effectively. If none of the above methods work, it’s important to understand that you’ll have to let the employee go. This is never an ideal thing to do and should always be treated as the last resort. It is, after all, better for the team and the organization.

    Whether you want to stay up-to-date on HR news, read in-depth insights on HR trends or find new ideas on strategy, innovation, and leadership, The HR Digest Magazine is here to suit your needs and help you stay more informed.

    How to discipline an employee

    The dictionary defines discipline as a “punishment inflicted by way of correction and training.” Punishment. Inflicted. Let that sink in.

    If you spend just five minutes searching the Internet for the term “progressive discipline,” you find the craziest things that even good companies have accepted as standard and added to their employee handbooks, such as “Progressive discipline is the process of using increasingly severe steps or measures when an employee fails to correct a problem.” So let me get this straight — progressive discipline expects employee performance to improve by treating the employee progressively worse. Truly, this is the definition of insanity.

    Traditional discipline minimizes communication and employs threatening language at every stage. For those of you not in HR, progressive discipline is often a four-step process (verbal warning, written warning, final written warning or suspension, and termination), and HR professionals are trained to end each step with the not-so-hopeful refrain: “Failure to correct the problem may result in further disciplinary action, up to and including possible termination.” Really encouraging, huh?

    The problem is that punishment is not instructive. It cannot teach a new behavior or solve a problem. You may be able to stop a person from doing something or even coerce him to act in a more desirable way, but the desired behavior will never be permanently learned unless the person recognizes the impact of the problem and takes ownership to solve it.

    So why do so many companies use this system? The simple answer is that they think they need to have it to avoid legal claims. The truth is that an employee who wants to take unfair advantage of the company will do it whether there are policies in place or not. These “bad apples” will cost you, no matter what you do.

    The good news is that there’s a better way — a respectful way — that creates a positive employee response and prompts a commitment to changed behavior. And it’s legally defensible.

    This approach requires alignment with two key philosophies:

    1. Remember that 95 percent of employees are responsible adults. If a problem develops and is brought to their attention, they will want to solve it.
    2. By using adult communication, showing confidence and trust, and involving the employee in finding a solution, you will get the desired results.

    The approach is simple.

    First, use adult communication to describe the specific problem, then state the impact. Stating the impact is important because when people become aware of the impact and see how it affects others, they want to fix it. However, it’s still important to get to the root of the problem.

    In manufacturing, leaders are trained to ask “The Five Whys.” By repeatedly asking the question, you can peel away the layers of symptoms and uncover the root cause of a problem. Once you know the cause, it’s much easier to facilitate “the employee’s” solution.

    How to discipline an employee

    This chart shows the differences between traditional discipline and this employee-focused, counseling approach:

    With progressive discipline, the manager and the employee become stuck in a series of escalating steps, ending in threats and documentation. When you use performance counseling, you treat people with respect and the positive assumption that — as responsible adults — they will resolve the problem.

    As leaders in our organizations, can’t we take the first step toward creating the kind of workplace that values people, not one that punishes them?

    Sue Bingham is the founder and principal of HPWP Consulting. She works closely with company leaders to analyze their organizations and facilitate the implementation of commonsense systems that have a positive impact on their organizations’ bottom line. She has a passion for helping companies embrace and transition to high-performance work environments. Want to learn more about this counseling approach? Check out our webinar series on this topic.

    Employee discipline is the force that prompts individuals or groups to observe rules and regulations put forward by the organization.

    Discipline remains a prerequisite for anyone’s success, including a company. A company where the behavioral issues of its employees go unaddressed will find itself facing various losses. Productivity, morale, and its very core values are bound to suffer.

    Yet, the usual disciplinary problems are common workplace occurrences. So, it is more about how you decide to approach those problematic employee behaviors by setting an example for other employees to follow.

    Progressive Discipline

    The approaches to discipline might vary for every company. But, progressive discipline is one aspect that works.

    Progressive discipline is a disciplinary process where severe steps are taken after an employee cannot rectify their performance.

    There are many reasons why progressive discipline is ideal for a workplace environment.

    • Employees are made aware of their shortcomings and problems.
    • Employees know the expectations from them.
    • Instant improvements are not expected.
    • A transparent and systematic process.
    • Results are measurable and reviewed.
    • The data can help to identify problem areas.

    The purpose of discipline is not to punish employees. Instead, the effective field is when people are made aware of leading a life that honors the fact that rules were set for a reason.

    The "Hot-Stove Rule" is an excellent example of imposing disciplinary action without generating resentment among employees. It forms an analogy between touching a hot stove and undergoing discipline. Exactly like touching a hot stove, your discipline should be immediate and consistent.

    Naturally, employees might get deviated from time or time. As a leader or human resources professional, your role is to guide them through the entire disciplinary procedure.

    Let’s have a look at how to enforce employee discipline easily and effectively.

    5 Ways To Address Employee Discipline

    Employee discipline impacts not only workplace culture but employee performance as well. Thus, to ensure smooth business outcomes, you must establish a plan to address any work violations. Here’s how:

    1. Communicate Rules And Regulations

    The right communication measures can solve half of the problems in regular workplaces, including effective discipline.

    Employees must know how their behavior might violate the rules and regulations. Therefore, it works as a safeguard for both you and your employees.

    The employees get a broader picture of what is expected of them. At the same time, the employers are protected from any future accusations of not giving employees a head’s up about any disciplinary problems.

    To clearly communicate the disciplinary purposes, a human resources manager should follow these steps:

    • Give your new hires a copy of the rules and regulations on their first day.
    • Hold a meeting to communicate the importance of discipline verbally. In addition, share the outcome of poor behavioral issues.
    • Ask employees to send any questions or problems directly to you or their managers.
    • Ensure a feedback culture. Where employees can communicate any workplace issues that affect their performance and efforts.

    2. Verbal Counselling

    Human resources or managers use verbal counseling to inform employees about their poor performance or behavior and the need for improvements. For minor issues, such as arriving to work late, this is the only step required from your side.

    The human resources manager should have a private one-on-one session with the employee to discuss the behavioral issues. Human resources should determine if the employee is aware of the problem and justify their behavior or performance.

    As appropriate, the human resources manager should guide the employee through the process or help him/her resolve the issue.

    Moreover, human resources should keep written documentation:

    1. Regarding the issue,
    2. The date it occurred,
    3. And the corrective action suggested.

    Depending on the seriousness of the disciplinary actions, second verbal counseling might be warranted.

    3. Written Warnings

    A written warning notifies employees about their continued low-performance issues or harmful workplace behavior that have not been solved even after giving them verbal counseling.

    For example, human resources have given the employee verbal counseling about not informing about being late to work. However, the employee has not taken any corrective actions.

    The written warning should include:

    1. Information regarding the issue.
    2. The date on which the problem occurred.
    3. The desired behavior is communicated to the employee.

    Human resources should meet privately with the employee to discuss the issue and provide a written warning.

    Additionally, ask the employee to sign the written warning. This will indicate that they have been notified about their behavioral issues. Meanwhile, provide a copy of the written notice to the employee as well.

    4. Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

    A PIP is a formal performance plan used by human resources or the manager as a final attempt in the disciplinary process to resolve a serious issue that the employee has not resolved even after multiple warnings.

    The PIP gets issued for a specified period, usually 30, 60, or 90 days. It is upon the human resources or the manager to decide the length of the PIP.

    5. Employee Termination

    An employment termination, while being the last resort, is still a necessary option to consider. Even after being assisted by peers and managers, employees who show no improvement or personal effort point towards being let go.

    Additionally, some behavioral issues (such as low-performance or workplace harassment) are so severe that it requires an instant and permanent measure such as termination.

    The human resources manager should connect with the employee to discuss the termination and provide the employee’s termination letter. In addition, human resources should request that another person attend the termination meeting with them as a witness.


    Are there any extra steps that you would have taken to address employee discipline? We’d be interested to hear it in the comments below.

    Disciplining employees is a necessary matter in every organization, albeit an unpleasant one. Effective discipline can help to correct employee behavioral issues and can increase productivity. Effective discipline will also help to protect your company against wrongful termination lawsuits.

    It is important to have a strategically designed discipline policy so that your employees know what is expected and what will happen if they do not meet expectations. Having this degree of consistency will provide your organization with a sense of stability that all of your employees, managers, and HR personnel will appreciate. Using the following steps for disciplinary action can make it easy for you to meet this ideal.

    Step 1: Oral Reprimand

    Oral reprimands should be given as soon as a manager or employer notices an issue with an employee’s performance or behavior. Oral reprimands should be given tactfully, so that employees understand that reprimands are constructive criticism and not personal attacks. It may be helpful for employers or managers to design a verbal reprimand form so that written documentation can be kept of oral reprimands.

    Step 2: Written Warning

    If an employee does not respond to a verbal reprimand favorably or begins t o exhibit further behavioral or performance issues, it may be necessary to issue a wri tten warning. An effective written warning should detail exactly what the undesirable aspects of the employee’s behavior or performance are, how the employee should correct these issues, and what will happen if the employee does not correct these issues. Employees should be given a copy of the written warning that has been signed by a manager, a witness, and the offending employee.

    Step 3: Final Documentation

    If an employee continues to exhibit poor performance after receiving a written warning, managers should issue final documentation. When final documentation is given, employees should be shown all other times that reprimands have been given and documented, while managers pointedly explain how they were instructed to act and how they failed to meet the expectations. Employees should understand that they may face termination if the behavior continues, but should still be given a chance to meet the expectations.

    Step 4: Suspension with Probation

    If an employee still continues to fail to meet expectations after final documentation has been given, you may wish to give the employee one final chance in the form of a suspension with a subsequent probationary period. The probationary period may include a dock in pay, continuous supervision, or retraining efforts. Before an employee is suspended, HR professionals should be consulted.

    Step 5: Termination

    If an employee continues to exhibit the same behaviors after the suspension period or does not respond favorably to retraining, it is unfortunately time to move on to termination. When an employee is terminated, the final meeting should be in person and the employee should be given documentation and an explanation as to the exact reasons for the termination. If all behavioral issues have been documented every step of the way, the employee should not be able to collect unemployment or file a wrongful termination lawsuit.


    Dave Rietsema is the CEO of Matchr and former HR Professional with more than 10 years of experience helping companies to find the best HR software.