Why do you need a disciplinary action form?

Written by Raul T. Pereyra, HR Pro & Consultant

Great employers such as you establish standards and expectations for employees in two general categories: work rules and behaviors. Work rules are things like policies, procedures, protocols, etc. Behavioral standards are things like being respectful, using professional language, having a positive attitude so they don’t piss off the boss.

So, what do you do when employees don’t meet your standards and expectations? 
Usually, some form of performance management is used to support employees before problems arise. Your goal for performance management is to manage how well employees are meeting job expectations and adhering to established standards and policies.   

Sounds boring, right? Bear with me. When performance management tools, such as coaching and counseling, don’t work or when employees willfully violate work rules or behavioral standards, then it’s time to elevate your game.  

Enter the world-famous, Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), and the most feared, Disciplinary Action. An effective PIP just might be the nudge your employee needs to get back on track. Try to use disciplinary action as a last resort.

The Last Resort.  
Most performance issues associated with work rules or policy violations are pretty easy to handle using a well-written discipline policy. But most managers, I’m not talking about you, struggle with disciplining behavior issues. After all, how do you discipline an employee who rolls their eyes at you every time you speak? Can you blame them?

I believe in treating employees like people. The relationship you build with them is important. They are valuable members of your business. So, your role is to support your people by giving them the tools to be successful at their jobs and setting clear examples for meeting job expectations.

And this means providing clear examples of what behaviors are and aren’t appropriate for successfully meeting job expectations. Your standards for behaviors must be communicated with employees so that you can hold them accountable when they’re slipping up.

Disciplinary Action: an opportunity to correct (not punish).
When you’ve done your part, and the employee is still not willing to follow your work rules or behavior standards, then it’s time for disciplinary action. The purpose of disciplinary action is to bring awareness of the behavior that needs to be corrected and not necessarily to punish the employee.

A well-written disciplinary policy guides you on the situations and steps you take to apply discipline across your organization, consistently and fairly. Popular disciplinary policies use progressive discipline, or step discipline, to address policy violations and behavioral issues. 

Your progressive discipline policy may include the following steps.

  1. First Written Warning
  2. Second Written Warning
  3. Third Written Warning or Suspension
  4. Suspension or Demotion (or termination depending on the severity of the situation or lack of progress)
  5. Termination

Sounds easy, right? It is. You just need to follow your policies and document what you’ve done with your employees. And this is where a Disciplinary Action form comes into play. It’s used for documenting the work rules and behavioral expectations employees are not meeting per standards.

Put your Disciplinary Action form into Action!
It’s time to use your Disciplinary Action form when you’ve been dealing with these types of issues and verbal warnings and coaching are not cutting it:

  • Poor Attendance and punctuality.
  • Safety violations.
  • Not meeting job expectations, performance requirements.
  • Poor behavior (attitude, spreading rumors, and yes, rolling their eyes in disrespect).

Disciplinary Action forms provide a record of all the steps you took to support your employee’s success in meeting expectations. So make sure you preserve this record and keep it in personnel files.

Termination is never a good outcome for employees. But if you can’t avoid termination, then the form documents the fact that you gave your employee multiple opportunities to improve and that you only terminated them because they left you no other choice. This puts you in a good position because you’ll have evidence of what led up to the termination should this ever be called into question. 

So, what info do you include in a Disciplinary Action form?
You’re including a record of the employee’s inability to meet job expectations and what actions you’re going to take if they continue to fall short. If you’re lucky, they’ll turn it around and improve. And you won’t have to terminate and spend time and resources filling the position.   

So, you’re going to meet with the employee at least two times. The first time is to get their side of the story. And the second time is when you meet with them and present the Disciplinary Action form. 

Make sure your Disciplinary Action form includes the following:

  • Complete name of the employee.
  • Name of supervisor or department as applicable.
  • Date of the incident (and the date that you issued the written warning) that led to the issuance of this written warning and what disciplinary action you’re taking.
  • Summary of the incident with specific details (describe what happened and how that incident violated your policies or fell short of meeting expectations).
  • Summary of past incidents that required verbal and written warnings.
  • The employee’s side of the story (allow employees to explain what happened and include this in the summary).
  • The employee’s suggestions to improve (allow employees to make suggestions for improvement to foster buy-in and accountability).
  • Be specific and name the behavior, job expectation, and policy violation that needs to be improved (what’s the corrective action you require for improvement and by when – date).
  • Signature of the employee to acknowledge that you had a conversation about the incident, what’s required for improvement, and to confirm understanding of the progressive discipline policy.
  • Signature of the supervisor who presented this written warning (this may be HR or whoever is responsible for delivering disciplinary action, which is usually the employee’s direct supervisor).

It’s the day of the meeting, and now what? 
Take a deep breath! It’s going to be ok as long as you remember this: you are the person with the authority to deliver disciplinary action. All that you want is to ensure that the employee understands what they did and how it violated your policies or behavioral standards and what they need to do to improve. That’s it. Anything beyond that and you’ll have a “difficult conversation” because you’re asking for too much. Keep it simple and to the point.

Don’t forget to use empathy but stay on track and document how the conversation goes and make sure everything is kept in personnel files.

Managing people is a difficult job. You’re not alone. With practice, it gets easier. And some even say that it’s satisfying. It brings joy because they get to use their powers for good: to support and develop people.

If you’re looking to hire a new employee in California and don’t know what’s needed, we can help! We have a few resources that you can utilize, we have A Step By Step Guide to Hiring Your First California Employee and New Hire Forms available on our website.

Another good resource to help you is Us! You can reach out to us here.


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