Lately, I have been getting a lot more calls from managers and business owners, asking for help with urgent disciplinaries. It’s in this moment that I say to them – slow down and take some time before you head down the disciplinary path.

‘Kind of’ Warning is not enough

Recently a manager wanted to immediately get rid of his employee for their poor punctuality. Mr “I’ll come in when I want to”, had been turning up to work at 8.30am, despite his official start time being 8am. My first question to the manager was if he had raised it with the staff member. His reply? “Kind of”.

“Kind of” is not enough to rush straight into a disciplinary process. I advised the manager that the first step was to raise the issue with Mr Late-to-work from a coaching angle. The manager needed to pull the employee aside and say they wanted to have a chat privately.

From there, during the private conversation, they could remind the employee of their contractual hours of work, followed up with an email confirming what was discussed. With this approach, the manager is well on his way to success, reducing his risk of doing the wrong thing.

If he follows this process, then after that discussion, if the employee fails to show up for work on time without a good reason, the manager has grounds to start a formal disciplinary process.

Getting the Steps Right

So, what do you need to do to get the steps right to a disciplinary? Potentially saving a huge amount of stress, time and money for everyone involved, let’s look at how a more measured approach can yield you better results:

1. Gather all relevant information
Take time to gather your facts. Rushing into a disciplinary process without a full understanding of the situation can lead to unfair decisions, potential legal consequences, and damaged employee morale.

Keep an open mind and consider multiple perspectives of events. Being too quick to judge can be detrimental to you, your employee and your company.

2. Meet and provide clear expectations
Before moving forward with disciplinary actions, always communicate your expectations clearly to your employee. Start by scheduling a meeting to discuss their behaviour or performance concerns. Allow them time to explain their side of the story and ask questions.

Then outline your expectations and the potential consequences of not meeting them. Within that, provide guidance on how the employee can improve their behaviour or performance, and offer any necessary resources or training to support their development.

Always make sure you send the right letter inviting them to the meeting – this documentation is really important.

3. Consider alternative solutions
Not every issue requires immediate punitive action. Better results can sometimes be achieved through a supportive approach such as coaching, mentoring or additional training.

For example, one client overheard his apprentice talking about him to another staff member while working on a customer’s house. He called me wanting to start a disciplinary process asap! Again – ready, steady, slow. Let’s be honest – most employees complain about their managers at some stage, and what the apprentice said was not bad, but more out of frustration that the manager was never around.

My advice to my client was to talk to the apprentice first to understand what the problem was, and to use this as an opportunity for coaching. This was the apprentice’s first job, so the manager had a great opportunity to talk about what you can and can’t talk about on site. The apprentice was surprised and grateful that he was not going to be told off, and has become one of their best employees.

4. Weigh up the consequences
Disciplinary actions can have a lasting impact on an employee’s career, and could lead to grievances or legal challenges if not handled properly. Pause and assess the potential consequences of your decisions thoroughly.

Also evaluate the impact on the team and workplace morale. Rushed disciplinary actions can create tension and negatively affect other employees.

By keeping it fair and consistent, you can reduce future consequences on how the team see you as a boss, and reduce inconsistencies around how you handle disciplinaries. If there are inconsistencies, it can also lead to legal issues and accusations of bias and favouritism.

5. Document everything
One of my main recommendations is to document everything, as it’s essential for a fair and legally defensible disciplinary process. Rushing through this step can lead to incomplete or inaccurate records.

Remember to keep detailed records of all interactions, such as meetings, discussions, emails, and any evidence connected to the disciplinary or performance issue. Follow your company’s established policies and procedures for documenting disciplinary actions.
Finally, document steps taken to address the issue and the employee’s response to the process. Note dates, times, and what was said.

It’s reality …but get support

Let’s also not forget that issues with your staff is a reality of being a boss. Things will happen, and conflicts are going to arise. Sometimes, you just might have to look at using a disciplinary process. Yet by following the steps above, you can significantly reduce the impact of this process.

At Tradie HR we have the key tools to help you get this stuff right – by being a strategic partner walking alongside you in your journey to help grow your people, correct behaviour and maintain a healthy work environment.
By taking a measured and thoughtful approach to discipline you can move with confidence from Ready Steady Slow to Ready Steady Go.

This article is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice.