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Best Reason to Apply Discipline to Direct Reports

Posted on March 6, 2015
Bryan KrinzmanWritten by Bryan Krinzman | Email author

Disciplining an employee – probably not one of the top reasons you decided to become a manager or supervisor. Other reasons would probably include increased compensation, the “fabulous” strategic planning trips held in exotic locations or the coveted corner office. While these reasons are meant to be interpreted in jest, holding our employees accountable for their actions, or inaction, are not a joking matter.

Applying discipline to your employees, and doing so consistently, are important responsibilities managers and supervisors have to deal with at some point during the employee lifecycle. While you may think “Let the person slide this one time…” or “In the grand scheme of things, how bad was it really?” in the end, you may be causing more work for yourself, and your organization, at a later point if you do not address undesired behavior when it occurs.

Below are the best reasons for consistently applying discipline to your employees:

Sets clear expectations – An employee and their manager need to be on the same page regarding attitude, performance expectations and conduct in the workplace. One way managers can level-set expectations with their employees is to review, in detail, the employee handbook and review the employee’s job description to make certain there aren’t any questions regarding performance expectations and expected conduct in the workplace. A best practice would be to review, and update, the employee’s job description during their annual performance review to ensure all parties are on the same page regarding the expectations of the role and those who occupy it.

Establishes a climate of communication – Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable reaching out to their supervisor should be something all organizations strive for. As an HR Business Partner with Helios HR, I have seen plenty of managers who could have avoided a lot of unnecessary conflict with their employee if they had had an open and fact based conversation with the employee regarding their performance or conduct. By not addressing the issue when it first happens, an employee is not aware that their performance or conduct is not within the standards the organization has laid out. Because of this, the employee continues along their path and almost 10 times out of 10, the situation continues to get worse and worse over time until one party does something so egregious that termination of employment is the only option.

May prevent charges of discrimination– Consistency in your discipline process helps an organization avoid claims of discrimination based on protected status like national origin, race, color, religion or sex. Showing that you made a decision based upon factors other than a protected status helps your organization overcome a charge an employee could file with the EEOC.

discipline employeesDemonstrates an employee was treated fairly – To ensure your employees are being treated consistently, it is important that employers present the following to employees:

  • An employee is informed of the employer’s expectations and the process and consequences attached to failure to meet those expectations
  • Your decisions are based on factual evidence
  • The employee has a right to question evidence and defend themselves
  • An employee has a right to appeal a disciplinary decision
  • Progressive discipline is used


There may be times you have to make an exception to a policy or procedure. If this happens, you need to understand that making an exception should be just that – an exception. If this “exception” happens more than once in a certain time period, an arbitrator or judge could determine that this exception was your true employment practice even if your written policy is contrary to your exception. Following the best practices mentioned in this post will allow your organization to create an environment that is fair, open and free of discriminatory practices.

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