Employee Conduct and Discipline Policy
Author: Jason Habinsky, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP
When to Use This Policy
Before beginning work, employees should know what conduct is expected at work and the employer's disciplinary policy. If there is not an established policy, employees can argue that the employer failed to provide notice of prohibited conduct and employees were not informed of the possibility of disciplinary proceedings.
The employee conduct and discipline policy should be communicated to employees before beginning employment, and the employer should make sure that employees sign and acknowledge that they have received a copy of the policy and understand it.
Below is a model policy that should be further tailored to fit the employer's specific needs
Employee Conduct and Discipline Policy
- Performance Evaluations - Supervisors and employees are strongly encouraged to discuss job performance and goals on an informal, daily basis. Additional, formal performance evaluations are conducted to provide both supervisors and employees the opportunity to discuss job tasks, identify and correct weaknesses, encourage and recognize strengths, and discuss positive, purposeful approaches for meeting goals. Performance evaluations are scheduled approximately every twelve (12) months, generally either coinciding with the anniversary of the employee's original date of hire or at a time set by the employer for annual reviews of all employees.
- Termination of Employment - [Enter Employer Name] works hard to treat employees fairly. [Enter Employer Name] retains the right, however, to enlarge, reduce or make changes in, or terminations from, the work force. Employment with [Enter Employer Name] is "at will," and either [Enter Employer Name] or the employee may end the relationship at their own discretion.
- Rules of Conduct - [Enter Employer Name] may take disciplinary action, up to and including termination, against any employee for failing, in the employer's sole discretion, to adhere to certain standards of behavior. Ignorance of work rules is not an acceptable excuse for a violation of the rules of conduct, it is each employee's responsibility to learn and abide by these rules.
- Failure to follow the rules of conduct is reflected frequently in certain actions by the employee, including, but not limited to, the following examples:
- Failure to properly perform the duties or fulfill the responsibilities to which the employee has been assigned, including wasteful and inefficient use of materials, supplies, or equipment;
- Excessive tardiness, absenteeism, or unauthorized absences;
- Engaging in personal activities during work hours;
- Working overtime without receiving prior authorization;
- Making unauthorized commitments or expenditures on behalf of [Enter Employer Name];
- Failure to promptly notify [Enter Employer Name] of an inability to report to work;
- Violations of the leave-of-absence provisions, including the failure to return to work from a leave of absence at the specified time;
- Violations of the safety policies of [Enter Employer Name], causing hazardous or dangerous situations, or failing to report and/or remedy such situations;
- Abuse of the business-travel policy, including falsifying expense reports to reflect costs not incurred by the employee;
- Disregarding or failing to comply with the business ethics and conduct standards of [Enter Employer Name];
- Failure to comply with conflict of interest policy of [Enter Employer Name];
- Misuse of confidential or proprietary information pertaining to fellow employees or the affairs of [Enter Employer Name];
- Abuse, mishandling, destruction or defacement of employer-owned property, machines, supplies, equipment or the property of fellow employees;
- Insubordination consisting of the willful refusal to obey the orders of a supervisor and/or the use of profane, obscene, or abusive language to embarrass, ridicule or degrade a supervisor;
- Disobedience -- The failure through neglect or procrastination to follow instructions, procedures and policies;
- Threatening, intimidating or coercing fellow employees on the premises of [Enter Employer Name] at any time and for any reason;
- Fighting, pushing, shoving or any other altercations;
- Assault on a supervisor or fellow employee;
- Willful mistreatment of fellow employees or clients, including rude actions and gestures, or using any abusive or obscene language or images;
- Unauthorized possession or concealment of firearms (loaded or unloaded) or other weapons on the employer's premises at any time;
- Reporting for work under the influence of liquor, unauthorized prescribed drugs or any other intoxicant;
- Possession or use of illegal or unauthorized prescription drugs;
- Engaging in indecent or unlawful conduct on the employer's premises, either within or outside of regular working hours;
- Violation of the employer's policies including, but not limited to, discrimination, harassment, confidentiality, and/or communication and information systems use policies.
- Any employee who engages in unacceptable behavior may be disciplined, up to and including the employee's termination of employment. Disciplinary action can take any one of the following forms:
- Verbal warning;
- Written warning;
- Suspension; and
- Resignation - Employees who intend to resign are requested to do so in writing with two weeks of advance notice. Employees must return all of the property belonging to [Enter Employer Name] immediately upon resignation.
[The employee should then have to sign a clause that states:"By signing this, I acknowledge receipt of the Handbook and understand that it is my responsibility to read and comply with the policies contained in this Handbook and any revisions made to it by the employer. I further acknowledge that this Handbook is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a contract of employment for any specific duration. Accordingly, either [Enter Employer Name] or I can terminate my employment relationship at will, with or without cause, at any time, so long as there is no violation of applicable federal or state law. If I have any questions about the information contained in this Handbook, I will discuss them with my supervisor and/or Human Resources.]
This is one policy that should be tailored specifically to the needs of the particular employer. For example, depending on the nature of the employment, the employer may require that employees provide four weeks of notice before leaving, or the employees may not need to provide more than a couple of days.
It is best practice to place this policy within the employee handbook so as to communicate the policy to all employees properly. The employer should make it the responsibility of each supervisor to see that this policy has been distributed to all employees and that each employee has signed an acknowledgment form.
Progressive discipline policies are recommended. When providing an employee with an oral or written warning, the employer may also want to inform the employee of the specific work performance deficiency and provide recommendations for improvement. Progressive discipline ensures that the employee has a chance to correct the problem and take steps toward improvement.
This policy should be applied uniformly or courts may be much less willing to accept that the policy existed. This means that employers should not target specific employees and penalties should be applied in an even-handed fashion. The failure to apply this policy uniformly can make employers vulnerable to lawsuits and claims that supervisors or managers displayed favoritism.
Employers also may want to conduct training seminars so supervisors understand the contours of the policy document that should be enforced. Any individuals involved in a proceeding regarding discipline or termination should keep copious notes and document in writing exactly what happened. Supervisors should be instructed to take progressively more serious action if there are repeated occurrences of the misconduct.
If employers work with union employees, the collective bargaining agreement may also dictate which behaviors are permitted and not permitted.