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Avert Discipline Mistakes by Training Managers

by David Khan on 12/31/2003
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As the occurrences of employment litigation increase and jury verdicts become more costly, it seems obvious that managers could benefit from better training and resources to help them avoid making negligible errors. One management practice that generates numerous employment disputes and lawsuits has to do with disciplining employees. While disciplining employees usually comes with the territory of being the "boss," this task sometimes creates more problems than it relieves.

In addition to such measures as establishing and distributing the organization's rules and regulations and engaging in preventative actions that seek to avoid problems before they begin, one of the most effective means of decreasing conflicts is by instituting training programs for all managers and supervisors on the proper process and methods of disciplining employees.

To effectively discipline employees, training programs should include such general topics as progressive discipline, the organization's policy regarding disciplinary actions, and disciplinary meetings. Specific topics to address are:

Discrimination. It is rare that managers intentionally discriminate against employees. However, perception is often more important than reality. If an employee perceives that he or she is being disciplined differently from others as a result of a manager's discriminatory views, a lawsuit will likely ensue. Therefore, training should incorporate information on the laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. Such laws include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Rehabilitation Act, just to name a few.

Breach of Contract. To protect against breach of contract claims, managers need to avoid making unintended promises when disciplining employees. Whether included in offer letters, employment agreements, or the employee handbook, "broken promises" pose a risk.

Defamation. A statement is defamatory if it harms the individual's reputation. To avoid such a claim, managers and supervisors should be educated on the importance of thoroughly investigating all allegations before acting or speaking, maintaining evidence that is based on factual information, and keeping personnel information confidential.

Documentation. Proper documentation is key to avoiding lawsuits, yet many managers are never taught how to do it. Managers need to be educated on the types of occurrences that should be noted, the appropriate language to be used, and ways to retain the confidentiality of these records.

At the end of each training session, managers and supervisors who undergo the training need to sign affidavits that attest to their participation. This allows employers to demonstrate that the proper steps were taken to educate staff. It also helps the employer defend itself in the event that an employee alleges misconduct on the part of the manager.

This training is an effective approach to instructing managers and supervisors on the proper process and methods of disciplining employees. If conducted properly, managers will be better suited to provide discipline that offers constructive solutions to their employees, thereby reducing incidents of the erroneous behavior(s).

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Categories: 2004, Human Resources

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