How to Discipline a Disobedient Employee

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Disciplining employees can test even the most conscientious, sensitive manager. If an employee is disciplined too lightly, the rest of the team may be left feeling that rules don't need to be respected. But if the punishment is too heavy, you may be seen as a tyrant. The goal of disciplining employees is twofold: to make it clear that the rules of the workplace will be enforced, and to encourage the disciplined employee to correct his behavior. To accomplish this, managers should follow some simple steps.

  • Read the policy and ensure it is clear and well-known. Disciplining someone over an obscure rule or a technicality can lower office morale. If the rule wasn't well-known, publicize it better via an email, memo or poster, and let the person off with a warning.

  • Document the misbehavior. For legal reasons, managers must document the events that led to employee disciplining before actually disciplining them. Write and copy a written report, including witness statements, if appropriate. Provide one copy to the employee and another to human resources.

  • Explain to the employee what he did wrong. Before formally disciplining him, take the employee aside and explain the actions that led to his sanction. Ensure that the employee understands both what you are punishing him for and how he can change his behavior to avoid future punishment by asking him to repeat back to you what you've told him in his own words.

  • Mete out the proper punishment. The manner in which you discipline the employee should be in accordance with company policy. In some cases, the disciplinary procedure will be straightforward, while in other cases you will have discretion. If the latter is the case, strive for consistency and clarity in your decisions: If your decisions appear capricious, it will lower workplace morale and increase confusion.

  • Follow up with the disciplined employee and with anyone whom his conduct negatively affected to ensure that the behavior isn't being repeated. The employee may also have additional questions later. Schedule a follow-up meeting with him in a week or two.

Tips & Warnings

  • According to employment lawyer Anne H. Williams in her publication, "How to Discipline & Document Employee Behavior," companies should be consistent with how they discipline employees. Managers should go by the book and use as little subjectivity as possible to avoid charges or favoritism or, even worse, discrimination. A charge of discrimination could end in a costly lawsuit.

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