Checklist for Disciplining Employees and Providing Iron-Clad Documentation

Melissa Fleischer, Esq.
Posted: 11/03/2011

Managers often get promoted to their positions without any formal training as to how to be an effective leader. Even more important today is for managers to understand the legal implications of their actions and know how to protect your organization from liability.

The first lesson manager must learn is that their role with their employees is similar to parent and child relationship. They are not a friend, they are a boss and their role is to teach. They need to help the employee see what the he or she is doing wrong and how to improve his or her performance. This is so that when the manager disciplines employees, they can provide documentation evidencing that they have told the employee where they are wrong and what they need to improve.

What should this documentation contain? Here is a checklist for what your documentation should contain to ensure that you have protected your organization and created a paper-trail to demonstrate that your managers have provided the employee with proper documentation:

  • Advise the employee that this is a disciplinary warning letter or a follow-up letter to a verbal warning. Whenever you discipline an employee if it is a verbal warning, remember to always follow it up with a written acknowledgement of that verbal warning.
  • Tell the employee what they have done wrong or what they are doing wrong. Employees need to know and understand where their performance is falling short of your expectations.
  • Provide specific examples such as, "Your absenteeism is unacceptable. You were out of the office on 10 days in the last two weeks on 10/10, 10/11 and 10/17, etc.
  • Advise the employee of the consequences if they fail to improve such as "Failure to improve will lead to further discipline, up to and including, termination. This is part of the general notion of fairness and due process. Employees need to understand what will happen if they do not improve their performance.
  • Provide a reasonable period of time in which the employee can improve and then provide another warning if they have not improved.

Why is this documentation so important? Without it, you are at serious risk for employees to claim that the real reason that they were terminated was discrimination based upon their protected class such as their age, race, religion or national origin. Unfortunately, in court jurors often believe the employee plaintiff over the company during litigation.

To avoid this, well-drafted iron –clad documentation will substantiate that the real reason for the discipline was the employee’s poor performance, absenteeism or tardiness rather than discrimination. By creating iron clad documentation, you will prevent liability for your organization in the event that the employee pursues litigation claiming discrimination.

Melissa Fleischer, Esq.
Posted: 11/03/2011

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