Disciplinary Actions: 6 Crucial Steps for Overall Risk Management

By MAMTC Alliance Partner on August 22, 2017

by Jennifer Endsley, PHR

You see it in the media time and time again. Companies are being sued by disgruntled employees or the injured public, paying out thousands of dollars for a claim that may or may not be fraudulent. Even single managers may be sued for actions they did not take. These cases are not only expensive but can bring a small or medium sized business to a halt due to the cost and any consequences determined by the courts or an EEOC investigator. In such a litigious country, how can business owners and managers protect themselves and their profits?

One of the easiest ways to reduce your company and personal risk is through a proper Disciplinary Action process. A Disciplinary Action is one that changes behavior in favor of desired future behavior. It should not be used to punish, harass, belittle, or demean an employee but to retrain and engage an employee in ways that will reduce safety issues while increasing skills to improve engagement and product outcomes. It is not a knee-jerk reaction and should not be conducted or given in anger. Disciplinary Actions can be used at any time with any employee but should be used in a more sparing manner to increase their effectiveness.

So how do you set up a proper and conduct an effective Disciplinary Action process to reduce your company and personal risk? Use these six steps:

Understand why you need a Disciplinary Action process

Make sure you understand the purpose of a Disciplinary Action and why you are using the program. This purpose should drive the thoughts and behavior of managers and supervisors to use this system correctly to reduce potential future incidents, increase employee retention, and eliminate possible workplace violence due to disgruntled employees or managers. Knowing when the Disciplinary Actions should occur and for what type of incidents helps increase the effectiveness of the program. Some companies have set rules as to the threshold of when an event or issue requires a Disciplinary Action, how many times the same Disciplinary Action can be used, and at what point managers should increase the severity of the Disciplinary Action up to and including termination.

Clearly define and create an easy to follow Disciplinary Action process

Defining and creating a Disciplinary Action process can be daunting. Questions such as who will oversee the entire process, who makes the final decision if multiple managers disagree, and who will conduct the investigation may bring up territorial feelings which can be difficult to resolve. Utilizing a third party or a subject expert such as MAMTC to set up a Disciplinary Action program as well as conduct any investigations in to an incident may help reduce bias. A solid Disciplinary Action process involves multiple steps, each with a specific purpose:

  • Verbal warnings or coaching: the least of the Disciplinary Actions, verbal warnings and coaching methods should be used to gently guide and retrain the employee toward the desire behavior. Although they can be subtle, employees must understand the reason for this warning.
  • Written warnings: written warnings are a well-known Disciplinary Action tool used to point out the urgent need for a behavioral change. These warnings are written documents that state what has occurred and the required corrective actions moving forward. Employees should have the opportunity to add their written comments to this warning and to sign the written warning. If the employee refuses to sign the document, managers should write “employee refused to sign” at or near the employee signature line.
  • Personal Improvement Plan (PIP): Personal Improvement Plans are written goals and instructions of how the employee must change their behavior. These are typically used to assist low performing managers and sales employees who are not meeting their goals or who must change their behavior to fit with the company’s cultural fit and values.
  • Suspension or Administrative Leave: employees may be placed on a suspension of one to three days, allowing the employee to reflect on their actions and internally determining if they wish to move forward with their employment. Sometimes an employee should be placed on Administrative Leave in order for the company to review any dangerous incident and to obtain required facts before moving to a final Disciplinary Action. Employees placed on Administrative Leave may or may not receive wages for unworked days which should be determined prior to this type of Disciplinary Action.
  • Termination: the most of the Disciplinary Actions, terminations should be used as a last resort when the employee’s behavior does not change or their behavior is egregious in a way that will not be tolerated. Placing an employee on an one or more days suspension prior to the termination allows managers to finalize their investigation and act in a logical, non-emotional manner.

Determine how to proceed with your Disciplinary Action process

Companies must set parameters and guidelines as to proceed with this process. Answering questions such as how and when investigation will occur, how to hold the meetings when two managers are not available, ways to present facts and information in an emotionally charged situation, and the level of employee’s comments allowed during the meeting will assist managers in conducting this process in a safe manner. Predetermine what documentation will be provided to the employee, by whom, and when is critical to ensure the company is in alignment with any set personnel record retention policies.

Keep proper and full documentation

Physical and digital documentation is a must for each and every Disciplinary Action. Companies must determine their method of documentation for each type of Disciplinary Action as well as any investigation. Any written documentation must be clear and concise with no emotions, inflammatory wording, and strong personal opinions. Methods of documentation such as written forms, email updates, incident reports, investigative reports and reviews, and investigative pictures should be clearly determined and evaluated for their effectiveness. It is wise to utilize proper documentation for any follow-up meetings or investigative pieces. Follow-up documentation should include information on set goals and the completion of any action items including employee retraining on behavior and processes. Lastly, companies should have a clear policy as to where the documentation will be housed and who has access to which type of document.

Follow through with any action steps

Some companies miss two additional steps that can make a difference: creating action steps and following up with the progress on those action steps. Action steps should be created in a SMART format: specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Action steps should be created prior to the initial Disciplinary Action meeting and presented to the employee as a requirement of their employment moving forward. Consider creating a simple document outlining the action steps and then determining who is responsible for the follow up and retraining on a process or behavior as well as any helpful benchmark methods to occur in a noted timeline. The employee should have a copy of this document and use it on a regular basis to determine their personal progress. Any follow-up meetings should document the employee’s progress and add additional action items previously not developed.

Use this Disciplinary Action program to manage risk

After going through all of the effort to create a proper Disciplinary Action program, companies must ensure this program is used on a consistent and fair manner to make sure they are managing any risk created by poor and dangerous behavior. Companies must squash the actions of entitlement and special treatment when determining who will receive or not receive Disciplinary Actions instead of picking and choosing based on which managers or employees are involved. Also re-reviewing all Disciplinary Actions and incidents on a period schedule such as all previous six or twelve month occurrences will show the progression or severity of any issues including employee disengagement, health and safety issues, equipment concerns, or poor process designs.

Inconsistencies in a Disciplinary Action program may be reduced by creating an Incident Review Committee or utilizing a third party or subject expert such as MAMTC. By using an unbiased third party, being consistent in actually investigating and determining who will investigate all incidents, instead of picking and choosing based on which managers or employees are involved. 


Jennifer Endsley, PHR is the HR Extraordinaire for MAMTC. With more than 15 years of experience in HR and Administration for both private and non-profit organizations, she is well versed in HR compliance, conflict resolution, group and team facilitation, family business succession planning, performance management, culture and brand management, and recruiting.

MAMTC is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to serving the business needs of Kansas Manufactures. In partnership with the Kansas Department of Commerce, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP).

MAMTC provides business services to ensure that ALL Kansas Manufactures are efficient, effective and profitable.

We help to provide solutions by addressing the ever changing challenges that leading a Manufacturing/Distribution facility brings. Let us help your organization achieve success. Contact us today by calling 913-649-4333 or emailing info@mamtc.com for more information.

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