An HR Glossary for HR Terms
Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
What Is Disciplinary Action?
A disciplinary action is a reprimand or corrective action in response to employee misconduct, rule violation, or poor performance. Depending on the severity of the case, disciplinary action can take different forms.
It’s up to the employee’s supervisors and managers to determine when disciplinary action should be taken. While managerial staff can be more lenient with minor violations (e.g., forgetting to respond to an important email), it is critical that they promptly address severe incidents such as no-call no-shows, harassment, or misconduct toward customers.
Employers and their supervisory personnel must also be fair and consistent when administering disciplinary action. When determining when to take action and what consequences to administer, managers should consider the nature of the violation, the employee’s disciplinary history, and their experience.
Disciplinary action provides a means of recourse if an employee violates company policy or the code of conduct. By enforcing a disciplinary action policy, employers can cultivate a fair, consistent, and healthy workplace culture. A consistent disciplinary policy protects employees, the company, and its customers.
Get the Definitive Guide to Company Culture
A vibrant company culture which supports and nurtures employees—and helps your organization achieve its goals. Created by BambooHR experts, our guide offers a step-by-step plan for leveling up your company culture.
What Are the Most Common Types of Disciplinary Actions?
Employers can use several types of disciplinary action to reprimand employees for negative behaviors or violations of the company’s code of conduct.
These actions are just a few of the options employers can use to address misconduct:
Verbal warning against the behavior
- Additional training in areas contributing to the behavior
- Written warning in the employee’s file
- Official meeting to discuss the behavior with supervisors and management team
- Reduction of job perks and benefits
- Suspension of duties
Employers must ensure that the level of disciplinary action they administer is commensurate with the severity of the violation. To ensure fairness when administering disciplinary action, many organizations have instituted a discipline matrix that links consequences to specific policy violations.
For instance, a bank’s disciplinary framework may dictate that being out of dress code warrants a verbal warning on the first offense, a written warning on a second offense, and a formal disciplinary meeting on a third offense.
Why Do Employees Get Written Up at Work?
The specific scope of an organization’s disciplinary action policy will vary depending on the nature of the business. For instance, a trucking company would prioritize issues like adherence to state and federal transportation laws, safety, and driver attentiveness.
Conversely, a bank would be more likely to administer disciplinary action for dress code violations, rudeness to customers, or other actions that could impact the organization’s reputation.
There are certain instances, however, that should always result in disciplinary action because of the egregious nature of the misconduct. Examples include:
- Threats or acts of violence, especially if against employees or customers
- Sexual harassment or assault, especially in the workplace
- Fraud, including unauthorized use and misappropriation of funds
Due to the severity of these behaviors, you must have a comprehensive policy in place to address them. Many organizations have a zero-tolerance policy, which means that any confirmed violation involving discrimination, sexual harassment, violence, or theft results in immediate termination.
Creating a comprehensive disciplinary action policy will also eliminate confusion among employees and ensure they know what is expected of them.
Does “Disciplinary Action” Mean “Fired”?
Though a disciplinary action can result in termination, it doesn’t have to. It’s up to the employer and managerial team to determine what type of disciplinary action is appropriate for the given violation.
If the behavior is a minor violation (i.e., the employee’s actions didn’t hurt anyone and could be construed as a genuine mistake), a written warning may be sufficient. However, if the employee keeps making the same mistake despite repeated attempts to encourage more appropriate behaviors and actions, termination may be an appropriate recourse.
Similarly, if the incident was serious and put others in danger or compromised their ability to perform their work, termination may be appropriate, even if the employee does not have any disciplinary history. Each disciplinary action decision should be based on the employee’s history, experience, and the nature of the incident.
Always say goodbye on good terms.
Offboarding employees isn't easy, so BambooHR is here to support you every step of the way. What’s more, our instant reports will help you spot trends in departures, so you can stop turnover before it starts.
You might also like
In this panel discussion, experts from PayScale, BambooHR, BizLibrary, and OfficeVibe will cover how to focus onboarding activities for new employees on the long-term goal of retention, rather than just checking the compliance boxes and leaving managers to figure out the rest.
Follow the journey of Ned the new hire bear and Heather the HR hare as they show us exactly how to make a great first day through effective onboarding. This first step to smart onboarding leads to many great days to come.