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Discipline: The Five Classic Questions
half-century ago, Arbitrator Carroll Daugherty, in rendering his decision
in the Grief Bros. Cooperage arbitration case, provided a series of tests to determine
"whether employer had just and proper cause for disciplining an employee."
As Daugherty explained it, "a no answer to any one or more of the following
questions normally signifies that just and proper cause did not exist." These
tests can be boiled down to five questions that every supervisor should ask himself
before proceeding with a disciplinary discussion.
questions are these:
1. Did the employee clearly understand the rule or
policy that was violated?
2. Did the employee know in advance that such conduct
would be subject to disciplinary action?
3. Was the rule violated reasonably
related to the safe, efficient, and orderly operation of the business?
there substantial evidence that the employee actually did violate the rule?
Is the action planned reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense, the
employee's record with the organization, and to action taken with other employees
who have committed a similar offense?
Reviewing these questions
and getting affirmative answers to each one assures you that you are on solid
ground in taking the action you have planned. Even more important, if any disciplinary
action or discharge is ever challenged, the organization's ability to demonstrate
that all supervisors consider Daugherty's tests before taking action greatly increases
the defensibility of whatever action was taken.
Too often the decisions about when the meeting for the Performance
Improvement Discussion will be held, who will be present, the location of the
meeting, where participants will sit, the time allotted to it, and other critical
matters are made by default. The more that these issues are resolved consciously,
the greater the likelihood of overall success.
the Meeting Be Held?
While the logical place is in the supervisor's office,
there are alternatives to consider. If privacy is a concern, consider using a
conference room. If the matter is not yet serious enough to invoke one of the
formal Discipline Without Punishment steps, a session at an isolated table in
the cafeteria might be effective. If the matter is a very serious disciplinary
transaction, the supervisor may ask his or her boss if the meeting can be scheduled
in the boss's office, with the senior supervisor present as a witness to increase
the perceived seriousness of the issue.
When Should the
Meeting Be Held?
The session should follow the discovery of the problem
as closely as possible, but sufficient time must be allowed for the supervisor
to investigate the facts and prepare for the meeting. Too often, supervisors begin
the discussion with an employee about a problem immediately upon uncovering a
serious lapse in acceptable performance. By rushing pell-mell into a discussion,
the supervisor loses effectiveness in two ways. First, since he took no time to
prepare, he has not thought through the issues of desired and actual performance,
the effects and the logical consequences, and thus will be less capable of avoiding
distractions and maintaining a professional approach. Worse, since the supervisor
took no time to prepare, the employee may believe that this is merely a spur-of-the-moment
reaction on the supervisor's part and not a matter of serious concern.
scheduling issue involves getting all the necessary approvals before beginning
the discussion. In almost every organization a supervisor must get higher management
approval before proceeding with one of the more serious steps of the Discipline
Without Punishment procedure. No organization I have ever worked with allows a
supervisor to place an employee on Decision Making Leave or terminate the individual
without at least a review by the Human Resources function and a member of the
senior management team. These reviews frequently take time, and as the time between
the commission of the act and the discussion of the issue expands, the impact
of the discussion on the employee may decrease.
implementation of the complete Discipline Without Punishment procedure always
simplifies the approval process, but time obstacles created by out-of-town trips,
vacations of key approvers, and other schedule dilemmas may still interfere with
discussing the matter with all deliberate speed. When time delays occur, it may
be wise to say to the employee, "This situation is one that concerns me a
great deal and we will need to talk about it seriously. I will get back to you
as soon as I can and set a time for a meeting to discuss it. In the meantime,
it is important that you immediately follow all job procedures."
Dick, Discipline Without Punishment, AMACOM: New York, 2006
Reflection Exercise #2
The preceding section contained information
about five questions to consider before you begin the disciplinary process. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
What are the five classic questions of supervisee discipline? To select and enter your answer go to .