Sometimes it becomes necessary to enforce and issue disciplinary measures to correct deficiencies in workplace conduct and behavior.
Lead by Example
All disciplinary actions should be by constructive, consistent measures and never used as a punitive reaction to employee behavior. In leading by example, supervisors need to be aware of their own conduct, attitude and work habits.
Coaching, Counseling, Correction and Documentation
Coaching, counseling, and correction describe a progressive approach to apply the University’s disciplinary policy. When disciplinary action is needed, supervisors should adopt a progressive approach to correcting the issue. Generally, a supervisor begins disciplinary action at the lowest level. It that is unsuccessful in remedying the issue, the supervisor may repeat the same process or move to the next level; depending on related facts.
The focus of the coaching session is to determine what needs to be done to help the employee improve performance or correct inappropriate workplace behaviors. The supervisor, i.e., coach, and the employee map out a plan of action. The employee implements the plan. The supervisor monitors the process – recognizing success and offering constructive feedback if a gap still exist.
Counseling is similar to coaching in that it shares the same goal, improving performance and/or stopping inappropriate workplace behaviors. With counseling, however, the meeting between the supervisor and the employee will probably take on a different feel. In such meetings the supervisor attempts to understand and identify the issues contributing to the performance or behavioral problem.
Accordingly, in a counseling meeting, the supervisor is focused on listening, verifying their understanding of the problem and engaging in problem-solving with the employee. Like the coaching process, the supervisor and the employee should leave the counseling meeting with a corrective plan of action in mind. Counseling is letting the employee know that the supervisor takes the issue seriously and wants to help them get past it. At the same time, the message is clear from the supervisor — the employee’s performance must improve, behaviors must change, or more serious steps will have to be taken.
This part of the disciplinary process features increasingly formal and more serious efforts to correct the problem. Such corrective actions tend to follow a fairly common pattern. The supervisor then escalates the intervention depending upon the response of employee or the seriousness of the issue being addressed.
Documentation and Progressive Approach to Disciplinary Action
Good documentation is vital and necessary to support the level of discipline imposed. Supervisors who cannot provide adequate documentation may be asked to defer enforcing certain disciplinary actions. All of the above corrective actions should always be documented.
The decision to discipline or dismiss an employee is one that should not be made hastily and should always be made in consultation with Employee Relations to ensure compliance with university policies, and applicable laws. Every disciplinary situation has its own unique circumstances and serious implications for both the employee and the university in terms of how the disciplinary action is facilitated.
Employees are expected to comply with federal and state laws and regulations as well as university policies and procedures. Breaches of good conduct should be managed in a timely and equitable manner consistent with the Disciplinary Action and Termination for Cause policy. While it's in the employee's best interest to cooperate during the disciplinary process, there are several things that the supervisor or manager should do to produce positive results.
First, the employee should be informed of their violation of University policies or rules. It's also important to provide an opportunity to improve, unless the seriousness of the conduct or rule violation calls for immediate action to dismiss the employee. Finally, supervisors should always inform employees of the time frame for expected improvements. There are four levels of discipline — oral counseling, written reprimand, suspension and/or dismissal — that may be used to correct employee behavior.
Counseling or Oral Warning
To correct minor deficiencies in conduct, counseling or oral warnings may prove to be effective. The conversation should include thorough review of the problem, how expectations for employee conduct have not been met, what is expected of the employee and why. The employee should be given an opportunity to explain the reasons for the conduct, and offered suggestions for improvement.
A written record of the counseling or oral warning session should be made. This record should be retained by the supervisor at the departmental level.
A written reprimand may be issued due to the seriousness of an offense or if prior counseling has not produced the desired result. The written notice must:
- be labeled as a written reprimand
- state the rules violated, or misconduct which has necessitated the disciplinary action
- state ways deficiencies in conduct may be overcome
- state the period of time the employee will be given to improve, and
- state the possible consequences if satisfactory improvement is not made.
The employee should be asked to sign the written reprimand, acknowledging receipt and understanding. In the event an employee refuses or prefers not to sign the document, appropriate notation should be made and initialed by the supervisor.
An employee should be allowed to explain their actions and may provide a written response to the written reprimand. Both documents will be sent to the employee's personnel file. It is not necessary that the disciplinary action be held pending the receipt of the employees comments.
A suspension may be issued if repetition of an offense occurs for which a written reprimand has been given, or if a violation of rules or policies occurs that is serious but for which dismissal is not appropriate. Prior to suspension, the department head must give authorization for such action unless the seriousness of the conduct or rule violation calls for immediate action. Human Resources should be contacted to review the circumstances surrounding an infraction that may involve suspension.
The written notice must:
- be labeled as a notice of suspension without pay
- explain the policies or rules violated, or other actions necessitating the suspension
- give the specific dates of the suspension
- give the corrective actions necessary, and
- give the possible consequences of a recurrence.
The employee should be asked to sign the suspension, acknowledging receipt and understanding. In the event, an employee refuses or prefers not to sign the document, appropriate notation should be made and initialed by the supervisor. A copy of the University Grievance Policy should be provided to the employee.
An employee should be allowed to explain their actions and may provide a written response to the suspension. Both documents will be sent to the employee's personnel file. It is not necessary that the suspension action be held pending the receipt of the employee's comments.
An employee may be dismissed for repeated misconduct or certain rules violations. However, supervisors must consult Employee Relations prior to dismissing any employee, unless the seriousness of the violation calls for immediate action after consultation with appropriate university officials. Employee Relations will review the circumstances surrounding any situation that may involve dismissal.
The written notice must be labeled as notice of dismissal and state the disciplinary steps relating to any prior violation of policy and/or rules, misconduct or other actions necessitating dismissal. A copy of the University Grievance Policy should be provided to the employee.
In addition to disciplinary procedures, in any matters involving theft or unauthorized use of University equipment or property, or other misappropriation of University assets, which may not be limited to cash, equipment or supplies, the supervisor must contact either the Division of Human Resources, Office of the General Counsel or the Department of Public Safety, who will after consulting with each other and reviewing the facts determine whether possible criminal prosecution will be made.
Employee Relations can share templates for oral and written reprimands with supervisors to aid in the progressive discipline process. To ensure consistency, supervisors must consult with Employee Relations before administering any of the above disciplinary actions with each new action.
For a sample but non-exhaustive list of behavioral issues that may result in disciplinary action, refer to HR 1.39, Disciplinary Action and Termination for Cause.
USC Upstate is an Equal Opportunity University. As such, every employee of USC Upstate should expect to be treated fairly with dignity and respect. Additionally, every employee should understand their responsibility to treat others in the same manner.