Progressive Discipline – Employee/Labor Relations Essay
Progressive Discipline – Employee/Labor Relations
Discipline within the workplace is and has been a controversial subject. With so much at stake, employers and employees have different opinions on types of discipline and the effectiveness of these processes. One largely debated form of workplace discipline is progressive discipline. Should employees be encouraged to rehabilitate in the workplace? Should management be protected against legal action if they are to terminate an employee for unacceptable performance or behavior? There are many different situation and answers to these questions. Progressive discipline has become standard in unionized environments, and is becoming more common in other settings, such as government, hospitals, and high-school classrooms. ((Pinker, S, 2010) Progressive discipline is practice of establishing a series of steps of escalating seriousness and cumulating in the major (termination). (Dad, D., 2011) Within these boundaries lie other steps that are used with progressive discipline. These steps usually include a verbal warning, a written warning with increasing punishment, and a suspension-most likely without pay.
The idea of this type of discipline is to give the employee ample opportunity to turn problems around. (Dad, D. 2011) Discipline within the workplace can take place for a number of reasons, and there are times where discipline is appropriate and inappropriate for certain wrongdoing. Infractions of company policy, tardiness, misbehavior, and other misdemeanors are examples of where the use of progressive discipline can be justified. There also may be instances where discipline is not appropriate; arbitrators have drawn a distinction between voluntary and involuntary unacceptable behavior on part of the employee. (Eden, G., 1992) If an employee’s infraction is due to a lack of their personal skills or knowledge, other forms of discipline can be recommended. Also, if the behavior is so serious that it is grounds for immediate dismissal, progressive discipline may not be required.
A progressive disciplinary approach combines the concept of stiffer penalties for more serious violations with that of increasingly more serious penalties for recidivism. (Billikopf, G., 2006) When applying a progressive disciplinary approach, there are rules that should be followed to be sure the steps are applied and the treatment is fair. The first thing a manager should consider is that communication is key. There needs to be sure that there is certain understanding between the person applying the rules and the person who is subject to them. The manager should explain the infraction and follow it with a clear statement of the expected behavior. Also, there should be justification of what the next step in the process will be as far as discipline if the violation is repeated. Managers can use the seven steps of just cause to be sure a proposed disciplinary action if firmly and fairly grounded. (Seven Steps of Just Cause, 2007) The University of Iowa lists these steps as: Notice, Reasonable Rules and Orders, Investigation, Fair Investigation, Proof, Equal Treatment, and Penalty.
An employee must be able to easily access the rules and regulation of conduct that is expected of them and they should also be periodically reminded of them. Sometimes, this can result in a need for re-orientation, sign copies of receipts of the Employee Handbook, and/or coaching from management. Training is a better approach than taking punitive steps. One reason is that Courts expect employers to “meet people halfway”. Offering employees ways to improve via training not only helps them to correct the problem, but it also shows that the company is a responsible employer that is willing to rehabilitate. (Falcone, P., 2000) Notice is the first and one of the most important steps of progressive discipline. If an employee is not clear on what is expected, how can they be required to produce the optimal results? Management will need to be certain that they are applying reasonable rules and orders.
They should check with the collective bargaining units to make sure they are not in violation of any agreements. Also, they want to make sure they apply these rules consistently and make sure they are related to the necessity of the business. (The Seven Steps of Just Cause, 2007) When a manager deems that a behavior in unacceptable or inappropriate, they should conduct an investigation. This can give the manager time to express their concerns and also give the employee time to respond. Sometimes, an employee may not be aware that their behavior is unacceptable or their performance is not meeting expectations. The investigation can ease the process. It gives the manager time to explain the concerns and give the employee a specific time frame to deliver results. Having an unbiased investigation can sometimes correct an issue before other or any disciplinary actions are needed. Once the employee is aware of the undesirable behavior, the manager can then start to consider all evidence, pro and con, and continue to conduct a thorough investigation.
Investigations should be timely and occur before discipline is imposed. (Seven Steps, 2007) Also, an employee has a right to have union representation or to have another employee present during the investigation. The manager needs to be sure that they make the employee aware of this. In the United States, such an opportunity to request the presence of a co-worker is based on the Weingarten case. The National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) has determined that an employee’s request for a co-worker to be present involves protected concerted activity, and thus should be extended to all employees, even those not covered by a collective bargaining unit. (Billikopf, G., 2006) When disciplinary action is to be imposed on an employee, there needs to be substantial proof that a violation was committed; the more serious the infraction, the larger the burden of proof. When an employee is accused of improper behavior that could lead to dismissal, embarrassment, or criminal prosecution, a false accusation could put the manager in a bad position.
If someone will be disciplined or terminated for dishonesty, theft, sexual harassment, assault, threats of violence, or working under the conditions of drugs or alcohol, management needs to be certain of the employees’ guilt. (Billikopf, G., 2006) The company and manager need to be aware of the policies and be sure that they are exercising equal treatment of employees when applying progressive discipline. The rules need to be applied even-handedly, justly, and without discrimination. (Seven Steps, 2007) Although there are not many instances where the violations of one employee are identical to another’s, management must take into consideration the severity of the infraction, the previous history of the employee, the employees’ attitude, and the mitigating circumstances. (Billikopf, G., 2006) Sometimes managers can find it easier to apply rules evenly if they discuss the instances with each other. Privacy should remain a main concern when discussing and manager should use concealment and modification when communicating about employees.
The last of the seven steps of just cause is the application of penalty. Penalties must remain fair, not arbitrary or capricious or based on emotion. (Seven Steps, 2007) When deciding on a penalty to implement, there should be a few factors taken into consideration. The use of progressive discipline includes the increased severity of recurring actions, so the prior use of this type of discipline on the employee should play a large factor in how a penalty is applied. The person applying the rules should be aware of the employee’s length of service and prior infractions and factor those into their considerations. A study done by Janice Beyer of State University of New York at Buffalo and Harrison Trice of Cornell University stated: Data from two samples of supervisors in a large corporation show that (1) supervisors used discipline primarily as a response to certain behaviors and when the work context was supportive of its use; and (2) use of discipline had small but significant effects on the subsequent work performance of target employees.
The study took into account different dependant and independent variables such as employee age, characteristics, social settings, supervisor age, education, and ideologies. The results showed that most supervisors in the samples used some form of discipline to deal with employees they considered difficult. Over 95 percent had at least one informal discussion with the problem employees. The great majority-76 percent- used both constructive and confrontive topics in these discussions. (Beyer, J. M., & Trice, H. M., 1984) Written warnings were used in 49 percent of cases.
Even suspensions without pay were used quite frequently; 27 percent of these problem employees had been suspended, for an average of about 4 days. Discharge was used with only 3 percent of the cases, but another 7 percent of these employees left the company. Clearly, despite the strong international unions that represented most of these employees in these companies, it is possible to get rid of some disruptive employees. (Beyer, J. M., & Trice, H. M., 1984)
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