Performance Improvement and Discipline

in Employee

In a perfect world there would be no need to learn how to discipline employees correctly because everyone would always do their jobs with total ease. Let's face it, life doesn't work that way, despite everyone's best efforts sooner or later a supervisor may need to work with an employee that has performance issues. Sadly, many supervisors still do not understand the importance of documentation. Documentation not only helps the supervisor and employee during the performance improvement and discipline process, it also protects the company from potential litigation.

If you are dealing with performance problems as opposed to attendance or some other policy violation the process is a bit more complex. When an employee's performance slips, don't wait until you are ready to terminate them before you react and deal with the problem. Chances are that even if you are at that point that you want to terminate the person, you won't be able to if you haven't spoken to them or documented your conversations. Any lawyer will tell you that without documentation you don't have a legal leg to stand on and if the documentation never made it into the employee's file it might as well not exist. While there are legal reasons to document, holding discussions and documenting conversations should be done out of fairness to the employee. Employees should also be given the opportunity to correct performance that has slipped or isn't up to par without the fear of negative repercussions prior to being disciplined.

Once you have recognized that there is a performance problem or if someone has developed attendance issues or even if an employee isn't exhibiting the appropriate behavior, you can start them on a performance improvement plan. When you start someone out on a performance improvement plan, don't include verbiage that is threatening; the whole idea is to improve performance so you won't need to travel down the disciplinary highway. If it is a simple thing like attendance then the document stating what needs to improve will be relatively simple. However with this type of issue it is important to start a dialog with the employee to figure out why they can't get to work. This is especially useful if something has changed, for example the employee's attendance has always been good and then suddenly they start being absent. This isn't the right time to jump all over the employee and immediately threaten discipline, you need to find out what is going on, help if you can, and then get the employee back on the right path. You also don't need to drag this out for months, attendance issues either improve right away or you will be taking the employee into the discipline process.

If the issue at hand is performance related or a particular behavior problem, the performance improvement document should highlight what needs to happen to improve performance and by when. Be as specific as you need to be so that the employee knows exactly how to improve. You should talk through the plan for improvement with the employee and then write up what was agreed on giving a copy to the employee and putting one copy in their employee file. Performance issues take time to improve, so make sure that you are setting a reasonable amount of time for the improvement to take place. To make sure you are being objective ask yourself if any reasonable employee could make the changes you are requesting in the allotted time, if the answer is no, then you had better rethink the timeframe.

Let's say that the improvement plan doesn't yield the results you were hoping for, the employee just isn't improving enough and it has become obvious that nothing is going to change. Now you will need to start the discipline process. Usually companies give two written warning and a final written warning prior to termination, however, it is also plausible to give one written warning, a final written warning and then termination. The key is to be consistent within the company and to decide what fits your company culture.

In a warning document refer to other conversations or performance improvement plans including the dates these conversations have occurred. Then be very specific about what needs to improve, by when and what will happen if the improvement doesn't occur. "If improvement does not occur in the allotted time frame this will result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination." This is not meant to avoid using a second or third warning; however, there are times when something occurs that is serious enough to go right to termination.

Now here are a couple of important points. The first point is that this is the time when a supervisor has to be diligent! You need to monitor the employee's performance, attendance, or behavior and follow up with monitoring the performance improvement plan within the timeframes set for follow-up. You should be intervening immediately if things start to deteriorate and going to the next step in the process; this is not the time to procrastinate. If you don't act in a timely manner you could risk delaying the process or set yourself back to the beginning by needing to start all over again. The second important point is to make sure when you put someone on a final written warning that says the next step is termination that you really terminate that person. There is no such thing as a final, final warning. If you ever end up in court and you didn't terminate a person on a final warning the first time but then gave them another final warning and then terminated them the question is going to be, why? What was different about the second time and when the government agency asks about all the people the company has terminated and some people get terminated with one final warning, and another doesn't, it looks like discrimination.

Make sure that all forms have a place for the supervisor to sign, a place for the employee to sign as well as the date. This will help to verify that the employee has seen these documents and they can't claim they never had any conversations about their performance. If someone has refused to sign a document then you should have a third party verify by signing the document and stating the employee refused to sign. This brings us to another point. During discipline conversations you should have a third person in the room. If you have an HR person than they are the logical choice, if you don't, another manager or supervisor can fill in. The purpose of having a witness is two -fold, you prevent he-said, she-said problems down the road and you also can help prevent emotional outbursts or false accusations.

Discipline is never pleasant but you can feel better about going down that road if you know you have been fair, given the employee every opportunity to improve and followed a process that alleviates surprises.

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Debra Breski has 1 articles online

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This article was published on 2010/03/28