Discipline top tips

Knowing how best to handle disciplinary issues in the workplace can be a challenge. David Jackson sets out clear guidelines to help you tackle misconduct, ensuring professionalism remains at the core of every decision.

Every workplace will face conduct issues at one time or another. When there is a need to take disciplinary action, these top tips will help you deal with it as quickly and effectively as possible, whilst avoiding some of the more common pitfalls. 

Remain professional

If you are feeling angry, let down or even betrayed by how one of your employees has behaved, that is absolutely normal. You have probably given huge amounts of your own energy and time to the business only for somebody else to come in and behave badly, jeopardizing it. It is important that you find an outlet to deal with that emotion so that it doesn’t begin to interfere with how you manage the issue at work. In order to protect your own position, you need to take a technical approach to the situation and comply with your own stated processes and the law. 

Have a clear plan

Once you have become aware that there may be a disciplinary issue to deal with, it is worth taking time to sketch out the process that you intend to follow with clear timescales and deadlines. As well as helping you to feel in control of the situation, this will avoid the risk of things drifting or there being any confusion about which stage of the process you are up to.

Be objective

However you choose to investigate an allegation of misconduct, it should be as objective as possible. This may mean actively exploring lines of enquiry that you instinctively don’t believe or that would be to the benefit of the member of staff if evidence was found. Whilst statements from witnesses are important, it can be particularly helpful to look at CCTV, time sheets, computer records, or training files to find objective evidence. You will want to show that you didn’t just try and build a case against a member of staff, but that you had a fair process that simply sought to establish the truth. 

Consider suspension carefully

It is possible to suspend staff on full pay to keep them out of the workplace whilst you deal with a disciplinary issue. This can be useful to avoid the risk of the individual speaking to other people or attempting to alter records or evidence, and to avoid the risk of further misconduct. It is important to remember, that while suspension is technically a ‘neutral act’ that doesn’t presume guilt, it will probably not feel like that for the individual who is suspended. Alternatives to suspension, such as assignment to different tasks, or a temporary transfer to an area with greater supervision, may be a better option.  

Think about the impact on your other employees

Your decision on how to discipline a member of staff should never rest solely on what your other employees might think is the right outcome, or on making an ‘example’ of somebody to enforce discipline elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is important to think through the impact on the mood and culture of your business and the kind of employer you want to be. Being seen as an employer who takes an unnecessarily hard line on issues of discipline, or one who tolerates misconduct with some people but not others, can damage your ability to attract, engage and retain good staff.

Disciplinary cases are always difficult, and none of these tips will change that. By following this advice, you will be putting yourself in the best possible position and will remain confidently in control of the process and the outcome.

Author: David Jackson is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Twin Kingdom Consulting

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