Misconduct is a serious problem. Most supervisors don’t like dealing with disciplinary issues, but you must real-ize that when you report misbehavior you are
just doing your job. The discipline outlined in
your organization’s training manuals should
be followed carefully.
There have been many lawsuits resulting
from employees being disciplined when they
didn’t feel their behavior was misconduct.
For any specific behavior to be considered
misconduct, the organization’s expectations
of an employee must be clear and explicit.
An exception is when the expected behaviors are natural and obvious, such as, according to a recent state
Supreme Court ruling, when a manager asks a worker to refrain
from slanderous public accusations or to not engage in disruptive,
Definitions of misconduct will vary somewhat from organization to organization, but most companies maintain a zero tolerance policy for drug and alcohol abuse, physical or verbal abuse,
sexual harassment, and insubordination.
One common form of misconduct is failing to be at work when
scheduled. A 2014 survey of more than 2,300 HR managers and
3,300 employees, found that 38% of employees have called in sick
when they actually felt well, up from last year’s 28%. Twenty-seven
percent cited doctors’ appointments as their reason, 21% said they
needed to catch up on sleep, and 12% blamed the bad weather.
Caution! It is not misconduct when there is just a single instance
of an employee complaining. A lone incident of relatively minor disrespect by complaining or arguing would not be considered, legally,
as misconduct. But as a supervisor you are obligated to promptly let
an employee know when their behavior is inappropriate.
Your organization should have in place an up-to-date employee
manual, carefully stating what constitutes misconduct that could
be a cause for disciplinary action. A session on expectations and
disciplinary procedures should be included in the early training of
all new hires.
If you become aware of an employee’s misconduct, that misconduct must be carefully documented. You should hold a private,
confidential meeting with the employee, state objectively what you
thought was unacceptable was, and then attentively listen to the
employee’s objections. A record of this meeting must be kept.
WHEN AND HOW TO DISCIPLINE
Remember that the goal of any discipline is to correct the miscon-
duct and modify the behavior, not to punish the employee. As a
manager, you need not feel guilty when administering discipline:
If considering firing an employee, keep
in mind that your organization could be
sued for wrongful termination, which
could be costly to the company—and to
your own career.
When considering whether or not to
administer any disciplinary procedure
keep these thoughts in mind:
1. Do the facts establish that the employ-
ee did—or failed to do—the things
claimed? If not, your disciplinary action
will not be considered valid, since the
employee is presumed innocent unless proven “guilty.”
2. Did the employee's behavior, if proven, violate an established
rule or requirement? If not, any disciplinary action will be
deemed inappropriate—and possibly, illegal.
3. Did the employee know—or should have known—of the rule
or requirement? If the rules have not been clearly communicated, the employee cannot be disciplined for not complying
4. Has the rule been enforced consistently? If not, discipline
against an employee could be seen as arbitrary or discriminatory, regardless of how well the case is proven.
Before proceeding with serious disciplinary action you should
gather as much information as possible, carefully documenting
the employee’s misconduct and your own attempt to deal with
the problem, and then consult with your Human Resources Office.
A disciplinary action for misconduct could range from a simple
oral warning, to a written reprimand, to a shorter or longer sus-
pension, or to demotion or firing.
The disciplinary measure you choose should be the minimum
necessary to correct the offense. Always consider fairness and
consistency, with your discipline being reasonably consistent in all
similar situations involving employees with similar records.
One-on-one discussions and brief notes can be handled infor-
mally. For more serious proposed discipline, send a written notice
to the employee outlining the discipline you are proposing and
why you are proposing it.
Disciplining an employee can feel uncomfortable, but letting a rule
infraction go unnoticed is asking for trouble. As a manager, you
have the responsibility to nip in the bud any misconduct before it
flowers into something that could poison your whole department.
Besides his clinical work and university teaching, Martin
Seidenfeld, Ph.D., provides consulting to organizations on management issues and on managing organizational stress.