How to Take Disciplinary Action — Under-Performing Employees

Managing Under-Performing Employees

If an employer is asking how to take disciplinary action against under-performing employees, they have not been paying too much attention to the local employment law. Most situations can be managed using a reasonably clear disciplinary procedure that follows the test of reasonableness.

There are some situations where you, as an employer may dismiss an employee on the spot and the actions are usually of a criminal nature such as actual bodily harm, theft, fraud and other serious misconduct that normally lead to the involvement of the police and legal procedure. For all other situations where an employee is not performing to acceptable standards in their job, every business should have a disciplinary and grievance procedure built into every employee’s contract.

Employment Law varies from country to country but the foundation of all good Employment Law is fairness to both the employer and the employee.

Can the situation be improved?
The starting point for all disciplinary and grievance procedures should be “Can something be done to improve the situation. If an employee is consistently late, under-performing or disruptive in the workplace, always start from the assumption that they have not read, not heard or not understood the company rules. This may seem to be a very liberal attitude but it can avoid some serious litigation at a later stage.

Take the individual aside and remind them of the rules, draw to their attention that they have signed for a copy of the terms and conditions of employment and ensure that they are now familiar with the situation. Make an informal note in their file, explain that their behavior has been unsatisfactory and ask if there is any help that they need to meet the standard. This line of inquiry can lead to some unexpected outcomes. One under-performing line worker had not read the company’s terms and conditions because he could not read. No one had ever checked and because he could normally perform his job to a satisfactory level problems did not materialize until work schedules were printed by a new computer system rather than being explained by supervisors.

Following the informal discussion, explain that a reasonable period of time will be given for the employee to undertake training, coaching or education to improve and that you will talk with them again after two weeks or so to review how things are going.

Formalizing the Disciplinary Procedure
If, after this period, performance has not improved, you are entitled to formalize the disciplinary procedure by providing a verbal warning, followed by another opportunity to improve. At every stage, be sure to listen to the employees reasons for their behavior. If their problems are not work related, they may benefit from compassionate leave to sort out their domestic lives. By consistently demonstrating your reasonableness as an employer it would be difficult for an industrial tribunal to accuse you of unfair dismissal.

Should the verbal warning fail to produce acceptable change, a formal written warning is the next step. Each warning should be part of a meeting between a representative of the employer and the employee with a co-worker or a trade union representative. Where possible non-compliance should be supported by written evidence and improvement plans should be agreed with all parties.

All stages of the disciplinary procedure should incorporate a copy of the entire procedure and the words “This is a verbal/written warning and is part of the disciplinary procedure” should be spoken in capital letters. Should all of this fail to produce the desired effect, you are fully entitled to give the employee their contracted notice of dismissal.



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