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Rhode Island Legal Blog

Friday, September 21, 2018

Developing a Disciplinary Policy as an Employer

Very few employers like to discipline employees for misconduct or poor performance. However, it may be necessary to do so to prompt t workers  to fulfill their job duties appropriately or behave in a specific way. Establishing a disciplinary policy long before you need it will clarify your expectations of employees and also help you avoid legal liability for wrongful termination or similar claims. This article is a brief discussion of how to  develop a disciplinary policy that works for your business and your employees.

Identifying Common Problems with Employees

If you already have employees, establishing  a disciplinary policy may be a response to unacceptable conduct you are currently experiencing. While your policy can be designed to  specifically target those unwanted behaviors, common problems your disciplinary policy should address include:

  • Attendance (including absences , tardiness, leaving early, or taking breaks too frequently)

  • Performance expectations

  • Theft

  • Safety

  • Training Requirements

  • Harassment

  • Equipment and material usage

  • Substance abuse

  • Violence or threatening words or actions

Consider specific  actions that “cross the line” in each of these areas. You can target your policy toward your expectations while using it as  a means to protect other employees or customers.

Create a Code of Conduct

While your employee handbook should clarify your expectations regarding work performance,a disciplinary policy works in conjunction with the expectations set forth elsewhere. Those  expectations must be outlined before you can begin creating your disciplinary procedure. If employees do not know or understand what is expected of them, they are far more likely to fall short.

Be specific in developing a code of conduct. Keep in mind that there may be an overall code of conduct for all workers and then specific job expectations for each position. Depending on the number and type of employees that your business employs, you may need more than one document to cover all of these various areas.

Developing a Response to Undesirable Behavior

Many employers use a progressive disciplinary program for their employees, while others  rely on a “three strikes and you’re out,” policy. In any event, your policy should l work best for you and your team. Many systems use the following progression:

  1. Verbal warning

  2. Written warning

  3. Suspension or probation and final written warning

  4. Recommendation for termination of employment

Regardless of the method you use, you need to  address both the severity and frequency of an offense.You may also need to consider particularly egregious conduct  that warrants bypassing this progression and leads directly to termination, such as employee theft, embezzlement, verbal abuse or acts of violence.  You should also consider how far apart in time the warnings can be before the sequence starts over. If an employee received a verbal warning last year, should he or she get a new verbal warning or move to the written warning stage?

The Takeaway

In the end, establishing a disciplinary policy  is not only complicated, it must adhere to applicable state and federal law. An experienced employment law  attorney can help you develop a plan that works for you and also meets the legal requirements governing your business.


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