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Handling Employee Discipline

October 24, 2019 • Cheryl Hoover

Handling Employee Discipline

No one enjoys disciplining employees, but every human resources professional and supervisor must be prepared to address performance issues. Resolving issues in a fair, consistent, and respectful manner can not only remediate problems but also provide guidance to employees, reinforce expected standards, and maintain positive relationships between employees and supervisors. 

Proactive practices

Establishing and communicating your organization’s expectations for conduct and performance can reduce discipline issues. Ensuring all employees receive the employee handbook, their specific campus or department handbook, their job description, and any other information relating to performance expectations, including policies, procedures, and standards of conduct, can increase their understanding of the expected behaviors and job performance.

Implementing campus/department and organization wide programs that recognize excellent performance reinforce the expected standards and can help reduce employee discipline issues. Examples of such programs are “Employee of the Month” and “The Extra Mile” awards. Using informal recognitions at staff or department meetings and other events also are an effective way to remind staff of job expectations.

Training supervisors

Most supervisors are not prepared to successfully intervene and resolve employee discipline issues. As a result, human resources leaders should provide training for supervisors to handle discipline issues.

Encourage supervisors to consistently treat all employees fairly and professionally, listen to employees, and to not ignore problems thinking they will resolve themselves. Training should help supervisors learn to:

  • Review and understand all policies and guidelines specific to the issue at hand
  • Communicate with the appropriate central office staff and HR when a problem arises
  • Maintain professionalism when handling a discipline issue by communicating calmly, by not reprimanding, and by focusing on constructive problem solving
  • Allow employees the opportunity to explain what happened or what they did and provide a written statement
  • Consider having a witness in the room if meetings are contentious
  • Conduct a thorough investigation, privately interviewing all persons involved; this may include students, parents, volunteers, or other employees
  • Use available technology when conducting an investigation such as video footage, emails, text, and phone records
  • Secure written statements from witnesses or parties involved
  • Document the investigation
  • Maintain confidentiality of all materials, interviews, and notes
  • Direct others to maintain confidentiality
  • Ensure corrective actions are taken and are based on job-related factors only
  • Complete appropriate documentation, obtain signatures, and share copies with the appropriate employees
  • Follow through with decisions and action plans made in the resolution

Train supervisors to use a progressive discipline model or structured corrective action process that improves and prevents recurrences of poor employee behaviors and performance. The most common order of actions in a progressive discipline model is counseling, verbal warning, written warning, suspension by being placed on paid or unpaid administrative leave, and lastly, termination. Consider adding required professional development to an action plan.

Some of the factors supervisors should take into account when deciding on a disciplinary action are whether the offense is repeated despite coaching, counseling, or training; the employee’s past record and length of service; the impact the behaviors had on students, employees, and the organization; and the organization’s practice in similar cases.

School districts should keep in mind different requirements for termination of contract employees versus at-will employees if the situation rises to a possible termination decision. Severely inappropriate or illegal behaviors would move directly to harsher actions.

Legal considerations

As noted above, ensure employees have required documents and training that help them understand and meet the expected job performance. Include this information in orientation and onboarding of new employees, and encourage supervisors to revisit this information with their staff from time to time.

Remind supervisors of the federal and state laws prohibiting employers from taking adverse action against an employee who files a complaint, testifies in a complaint, or participates in other protected activities. See Employment Law in the HR Library for more information. Employment actions, including discipline, should always be based on job-related factors only. 

Public employees have a right to appeal a decision or file a grievance based on board policy. However, working through the situation in an unbiased, professional manner can deter grievances.

More information available in the HR library

Preparing yourself and your supervisors to handle employee discipline is important so everyone has the confidence and the knowledge to remediate and resolve difficult employee issues.

Additional information in available in the Employee Performance section of the HR Library including the Disciplinary Guidelines Checklist and Employee Discipline.


Cheryl Hoover is a HR Consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Cheryl an email at Cheryl.Hoover@tasb.org.


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Tagged: "Employee discipline", "Employee handbook", "Professional development"