Overview: Employee discipline can improve communication with employees and foster positive outcomes - but only if used effectively. An employee's professional development may be aided by any number of measures, including targeted employee training and development or a referral to counseling. However, disciplinary action should also be used to ensure compliance with work rules and to promote workplace safety. In addition, employee discipline is a natural next step if an employee has not complied with a performance improvement plan (PIP) or action plan.
Although progressive discipline may be adequate to address many situations, at times immediate suspension or termination must be used. Employers need the proper tools to tackle commonplace workplace discipline situations, such as poor attendance, substance abuse and workplace theft. These tools include a variety of resources to aid in conducting discipline successfully, including internal policies and procedures and customized warnings.
Trends: States continue to enact legislation enlarging employee protections regarding an array of activities, ranging from smoking to voting to weapons possession. In addition, employees continue to make external agency complaints or file court claims under statutes with antiretaliation or whistleblower protections, such as federal and state False Claims Acts. Depending on state law, employers may be restricted from taking a number of actions during a disciplinary investigation, e.g., employee drug or polygraph testing. In other instances, an employer's failure to adequately discipline an employee or to document the results of a disciplinary investigation may pose greater liability problems, such as in the case of an external agency probe or an employment discrimination lawsuit.
Author: Marta Moakley, JD, Legal Editor
Updated to include forthcoming amendments to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016.
Updated to reflect retaliation protections in forthcoming amendments to the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing Act.
Updated to reflect discipline concerns regarding a state law that addresses weapons in the workplace, effective March 21, 2017.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a decision that protects individuals who complain internally, but who do not make an external complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), under Dodd-Frank's anti-retaliation provision. The decision deepens an existing circuit split.
Updated to reflect retaliation protections under the San Jose Opportunity to Work Ordinance, effective March 13, 2017.
Updated to reflect the retaliation protections in the St. Louis minimum wage ordinance, effective February 28, 2017.
HR and legal considerations regarding fair and consistent employee discipline. Advice on disciplining with effective results, no discrimination.