Disciplining & Firing Employees

Disciplining and firing an employee is something that no business manager looks forward to having to do. When you are running a business, you hope that the people you recruit have the appropriate work ethic to support your company objectives, and that you will work in partnership to achieve the best results. The reality is, however, that sooner or later, this is not going to be the case, and if you are to protect your bottom line and your relationship with other employees, then action must be taken.

Disciplining and firing one of your employees is likely to be a long, arduous and stressful process, but it is important to see it through to the right conclusion. To avoid as many of the common problems as possible, you should consider the following principles when taking action against one of your employees.

Get all the facts that you need

In many situations, things will not be what they seem. A thorough, detailed investigation into any alleged misconduct is absolutely essential. You should approach this with an open mind, never making an assumption about what the outcome will be. Fact finding includes talking to other employees, checking system records, analyzing data and using footage from security cameras. Part of the disciplinary process is about ensuring that there are no unanswered questions, and this is often the most time-consuming part of the process.

Be consistent and reasonable

Employment law frowns on employers that do not observe laid-down processes and procedures. Even in a small business environment, with low numbers of employees, you must ensure that your approach to disciplinary action is consistent. This includes maintaining a precedent, and observing several key stages in a case before making a decision. That decision, however, must be reasonable. It is important that you detach yourself from any emotional connection that you may have to the case, so that you can demonstrate that your decision was made based on the merits of the facts presented to you.

Evidence and records are essential

As soon as any kind of disciplinary case is invoked, you should record the details of all conversations and interviews. Organize evidence and information related to the case, and build a file containing all the relevant documents. Ensure that interviews and conversations with all employees are witnessed, and subsequently documented, and that you share the output with all the parties involved. If the case goes sour, any form of employment tribunal will expect you to be able to provide evidence of any aspect of the case.

Adhere strictly to the law

Employment law is increasingly strict, with regular changes in legislation. Many of these changes favor the employee in response to cases of unfair dismissal and harassment in the workplace. As such, it is vital that you understand your legal responsibilities and what you can and cannot do in a disciplinary case. If you are unsure about your position, obtain expert legal advice. Even a tiny error can subsequently lead to costly legal action against you and your business.

Acknowledge the impact on your workforce

Disciplinary cases can be very stressful for all those involved. Other employees will want to understand what is happening, and how it affects them (if appropriate). While it is important to observe the confidentiality required of a disciplinary case, it is also vital to ensure that gossip does not take hold, and that other employees are made aware of action taken, and the reasons for it.

Learn from every mistake

Every disciplinary case can yield opportunities for you and your business to learn. It may identify problems with processes that require more management control. It could suggest training issues, or opportunities for much clearer communication. It can also point to problems with your recruitment strategy or organization design. Whenever a staff member is disciplined or fired, it is really important to reflect on the situation and look for ways that the business can learn, such that a similar incident is less likely to recur.

Disciplinary action against employees is never an easy or pleasant task to undertake, but it forms a key part of every manager's role and responsibilities. Warrant that you fully understand the implications of disciplining one of your team members and maintain a consistent, reasonable, and thorough approach in every case, or you may find that you are simply equipping the employee to have legal recourse against you.

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