No matter what line of work you are in as a small business owner, if you have employees the time will come where you will need to discipline them. This can be a tricky task for most small business owners as they don’t readily have an HR department to rely upon. Here are some helpful insights about the right way to discipline an employee and when you should do so.
Protect yourself with an Employee Handbook
The first and most basic step every single employer should start with is having a well put-together employee handbook that outlines the acceptable and non-acceptable behavior for your employees. This is a serious task and you should enlist the aid of a qualified and experience employment attorney to make sure you are as protected as possible in this handbook. Here are some tips to get you started on the handbook:
· All behaviors, obligations, rights, and expectations about your employees, dress, behavior, and work ethic should be outlined in your handbook.
· The handbook needs to comply with local and state laws, not just federal.
· Distribute the handbook to all employees and make them sign that they’ve received it.
Once behavior is outlined clearly in an Employee Handbook, discipline becomes a response to violations of the rules it contains. This eliminates much of the ambiguity about when to discipline and helps make it much more consistent which protects your business from claims of discrimination.
When you should initiate a disciplinary response
One question most small business owners have about disciplining employees is “When is the appropriate time to discipline an Employee?” This is a valid question. Do you discipline an employee right away or see if problems resolve themselves?
It’s never a good idea to let behavior that is grounds for discipline continue to go on. It can affect your work flow, morale, and even set a bad example among your workers which could spread dissent. So, when there is an infraction, you need to deal with it as the next possible appropriate time.
How to behave when disciplining an employee
Your behavior during disciplinary actions with an employee is key. Make sure you’ve planned out how you are going to handle things before you interact with the employee so you won’t be surprised by how things go. When you speak, keep your voice down and remember the person you are speaking with – approach them in the best way to approach someone with their personality type in order to reach a successful and swift resolution. Some employees need a lot of feedback – others do not.
Be consistent in how you enforce these policies among your employees. Everyone needs to be held to the same standard and disciplined in the same manner. Strive for consistency as this will help employees to see you are firm and fair which gives them confidence in your leadership and fosters a sense of loyalty to your team.
Additionally, you put yourself at risk for claims of discrimination if you are not consistent in how you deal with discipline. Simply put – you don’t want to end up in court with a discrimination suit – you want to run a successful and profitable business. Being consistent when disciplining employees is of vital importance to protecting that goal.
Start With a Verbal Warning
The first thing you should do with any employee who violates a policy in the handbook is have a face-to-face conversation. For one, in many circumstances the problem is a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge. Simply talking to them and explaining the company policy may be all that ever needs to happen to fix the issue at hand.
As discussed before, think of the specific employee you are dealing with and how best to approach them. Remain calm, quiet, and if you suspect there may be anger on the part of the employee, have another manager present to help diffuse tension and serve as a witness.
Issue a Written Warning
A written warning is the next step and it often is included in an employee’s records – which makes it an effective deterrent in many cases. As always, think of the employee you are dealing with and approach them accordingly. The written warning itself should:
· Contain a specific objective concerning the correcting of the behavior in question – that it should be improved, ceased, etc.
· There should be suggestions and comments explaining how this improvement in behavior should come about.
· The warning should also be clear about the consequences that will happen if the behavior does not improve.
· There should be a place for the employee to sign that they’ve received the warning (this does not mean they have to agree with it)
Once you’ve gone over the verbal warning with the employee, it’s important to give them an opportunity to tell their side of the story as well. Give them this opportunity and listen to what they have to say.
Suspend the Employee
After a verbal and written warning have been issued – the next step is to suspend the employee. This may come about if previous disciplinary actions were ineffective or if the grounds for discipline itself were severe enough to warrant such an action.
Suspensions can vary from a day to several weeks and are always unpaid.
Terminate the Employee
Clearly this is the final disciplinary step and you must know that is justified by the state and local laws that govern your employee behavior in order to protect yourself from an unlawful termination suit and unemployment insurance fees, etc. When you know it’s time to terminate an employee, always follow these steps:
· Have a face-to-face meeting with the employee
· Have at least two company employees in the meeting
· Prepare what you intend to say in a script beforehand to keep things short and focused
· Keep the meeting as short as possible 5 – 10 minutes
· Before you have the meeting, make sure all employee passwords and access to critical data have been turned off
· Seriously consider offering a severance plan that you’ll pay ONLY if the employee signs a Separation Agreement you’ve drafted with an attorney you trust.
Using this list will help you ensure the best possible outcome of any situation that results in employee termination. If you have any questions or concerns about how a particular situation may play out – it’s always best to speak with an experienced business attorney on how to best protect you and your business.
Still have questions?
Please call us for a free appointment with Miami business attorney Yoel Molina in our Miami office at 305-548-5020.