Help… How do I discipline an employee?

This article from The Ai Group will help you determine when and how to take disciplinary action to create a safe and productive work environment for employees and management. Because disciplinary action is a difficult experience that we sometimes face, these guidelines are intended to identify the most effective approach to managing performance and/or behavioural issues.

When should I take disciplinary action?

Disciplinary action will need to occur where an issue has been identified and there has been no improvement. The issue could be related to poor performance or misconduct and the type of action will vary.

When it becomes necessary to discipline an employee, two principles apply.

1. The employee must be clearly informed of the unsatisfactory matter.

2. The employee should be given the opportunity to correct the problem.

If the issue is underperformance, managers should help the employee to identify and overcome any potential obstacles to improvement. Common factors relating to underperformance are a lack of technical skills, a lack of personal skills and a lack of motivation. A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) can guide this process by identifying the performance or behavioural issues that need to be corrected and provide an action plan on how the improvement or corrective action will be implemented.

Misconduct is another difficult issue to manage and is considered as any unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.

What type of disciplinary action is appropriate?

Once an employee has been given an opportunity to respond – and their response has been considered – a decision needs to be made as to the type of disciplinary action that needs to be taken.

In deciding what type of disciplinary action is appropriate, the following issues should be considered.

  • Seriousness of the breach of any relevant policy or policies.
  • Level of intention/malice.
  • Whether training about standards of behaviour has been conducted.
  • Relative experience/inexperience of the employee.
  • Whether the employee has been disciplined about this sort of breach before.
  • Whether others have not been disciplined for similar offences.
  • The employee’s work and conduct record.
  • Any mitigating circumstances.
  • The impact of disciplinary action on the employee’s personal circumstances.

The types of disciplinary action that may be taken against the employee include the following.

Counselling on appropriate workplace behaviour.

  • Written warning.
  • Suspension.
  • Transfer.
  • Demotion.
  • Termination.

Suspension, transfer and demotion are not straightforward issues. These types of disciplinary action could be a breach of contract if there is no express contractual right to do so. Employers should seek advice from The Ai Group by calling 1300 862 217 if they are looking to apply any of these types of disciplinary action, and prior to terminating a person’s employment. Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to this line.

What other factors should be considered when conducting a disciplinary process?

Before taking any disciplinary action, employers should be aware of the law. The risk of not conducting a procedurally fair disciplinary process could result in an unfair dismissal claim, a breach of the general protections or anti-discrimination legislation. Aside from these issues, the failure to follow a fair process could also have a negative impact on employee morale.
It is extremely important that any issues of concern are raised with employees as quickly as possible and all matters are investigated thoroughly.

Managers should be provided with adequate training to identify, manage and act on any performance or misconduct concerns as they arise. This will include ensuring that they are trained on how to conduct disciplinary meetings.
All disciplinary action, including informal counselling meetings, should be properly documented and kept on file, and there should be ongoing monitoring to ensure that the proper behaviours and performance standards are sustained.

Further advice or assistance

For further advice or assistance on this topic, or any workplace relations matter, Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line.

Call 1300 862 217 8.30am – 5.15pm AEDT Mon-Fri