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FEATURE OF THE WEEK: The laws of discipline – Clearly defined discipline policies will guide your actions

Few management decisions are more challenging than those that involve disciplinary action. It can be easy to m...

Few management decisions are more challenging than those that involve disciplinary action. It can be easy to manage employees who do everything right, but what are your options when you need to address someone who makes serious mistakes?

“It’s difficult to fire for isolated events,” admits Peter Israel of Israel Foulon LLP, a firm that specializes in employment law. As a general rule, any event will need to be considered within the context of an employee’s history with a company. “The courts have always looked at ‘dismissal with cause’ as being capital punishment. They jealously guard employee rights,” he says.

Carefully designed disciplinary actions, however, can help address and correct problems before terminations even need to be considered.

When drafting a discipline policy, Israel suggests following these steps:

-Describe jobs and expectations — Senior managers should create a clear job description for each role in the company, considering input from “front-line” managers in the process. Employees, meanwhile, should be clearly advised about their duties and any expectations that have been placed on them, including conduct accepted by the company, and the consequences of misconduct.

-Define the steps of corrective action: A discipline policy needs to clearly define any steps that will be followed in cases when corrective action is required. The most common approaches tend to start with verbal warnings, followed by written warnings, suspension with or without pay, and termination. (Without a clearly outlined policy, the suspensions could be seen by a court as constructive dismissal, Israel warns.)

-Retain your right to take immediate action: Managers should still allow themselves the opportunity to terminate an employee immediately in situations in which cause has been established.

-Monitor employees: Establishing a clear policy is only the beginning. Managers need to continue to monitor employee performance, ensuring that the workers meet required standards. Recognize good performance, and deal with poor performance in a timely fashion.

If problems persist: If verbal warnings have not been effective, a follow-up meeting and related document should offer examples of specific shortcomings, along with a corrective action plan, including any expectations that should be met within a specific period of time. Employees, meanwhile, should have a chance to add their own comments to the form and add their signature, and the date for a follow-up meeting should be established at that time. This approach offers a written record that could be needed for further disciplinary action, and establishes a consistent approach that would be taken with any employees.

If the problem is solved: When an employee has responded by meeting your requirements, be sure to confirm that achievement in writing, along with a note that stresses how they need to continue performing at that level.

If the problem continues: At this point, a final written warning will need to be delivered – and it can be given to the employee within the timeframe in which they were expected to mend their ways, or at the end of the unsuccessful review. Clearly state what the employee must achieve or change in a short period of time. Employees should also be told that failure to meet the goals will lead to immediate dismissal for cause. (The latter point will be particularly important in the event of a court challenge following a dismissal.)

If the problem is still not solved: Terminate the employee for cause.

More information on employment law is available at

The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) is an incorporated non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors that is representative of stakeholders from the Canadian trucking industry. With the conviction that the best human resources skills and practices are essential to the attainment of excellence by the Canadian trucking industry, the mission of the Council is “to assist the Canadian trucking industry to recruit, train and retain the human resources needed to meet current and long-term requirements.”

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