Disciplinary documents in employee terminations

by on May 28, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Employee terminations become much easier when policy is cited.

So how do you get disciplinary documents right so you’re safe when its time for employee terminations? First, you’re going to put things in writing. You always want to have a record of the action you took. You want to be sure that the employee understands the consequences of ignoring or violating employee policies. You want to reaffirm the at will nature of employment.

Have the employee acknowledge the document
You want the person to sign the document to acknowledge that they’ve been disciplined or warned about any employee policies they are violating. That way, later, if you decide to move forward with employee terminations for a subsequent policy infraction, you have documentation proving that the employee was specifically warned, but chose to continue disobeying employee policies. If the employee refuses to sign, you should write on the document that the employee refused to sign and ask the employee to sign that, or have a witness sign showing that the employee was notified.
These are the documents you want to refer back to for employee terminations. You want to cite the specific employee policies the employee should be made aware of the rule or policy for which he or she is being disciplined.

Handbook receipt form
When you distribute that handbook, you’ll want a written acknowledgment that the employee has received a copy of it and is thus aware of employee policies. That’s generally a part of your new hire documentation. But that acknowledgment form will be useful evidence later on if the matter ends up in litigation and the former employee claims that he didn’t know the company had such a policy.

Details about the incident
You’re going to want to list all applicable information, including the dates of the infractions, if there were witnesses–you want the employee to know the exact reason that they’re being disciplined so they can’t come back and claim that they didn’t know what they did. You want to give concrete examples of the employee policies that are being broken. If this person has been disciplined before for violation of the same employee policies, you want to list what prior disciplinary actions have occurred, and list what the specific future course of action is, including, a timetable. This person should know what the goals are and what the expectations are for improvement.

Consequences and Employee Temination
Similarly, you want to tell that employee what’s going to happen if the conduct or performance does not improve. You’re going again set a definite time period. You’re going to require the employee to sign and date and you’re not going to just leave it at that but you will follow up with that employee in the appropriate time frame to see how it’s going to make sure that expectations have been met in a timely manner. If they haven’t, then you need to move on to either further discipline or employee terminations.

You can talk about discipline or employee terminations till you’re blue in the face about what to include by topic, but there’s a bit of an art to writing these documents. You want to be concise, you want to be accurate, and you want to avoid generalities. Think of it this way; if a jury were reading this; would they be on your side? Would they think this person actually did these things, that it’s clear that the company took the situation seriously, that there were problems, and that they notified the employee about it and gave them a chance to improve before you decided on terminating that employee.

You want to be as specific as possible in writing a disciplinary document. Instead of just saying that an employee’s performance isn’t meeting your standards, mention exactly what those standards are. Note what employee policies aren’t being followed. If there’s an attendance issue, be specific. You want the exact dates. You want to know if the person called in, if they didn’t call in; know exactly what the issues are.
These are the kind of documents a lawyer wants to see when he gets a call from someone saying they want to terminate a person.

Edited remarks from the Rapid Learning Institute webinar: How to Document Terminations So You Won’t Lose a Lawsuit by Alyssa Senzel given on June 7, 2006

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