Employee Disciplinary Warnings: Will Yours Hold Up?

1356757_57335934Give employees written warnings before firing them for performance problems.  These warnings are your good friends.  They help convince an unemployment hearing officer your decision to discharge was for good cause.

But does the language in these warnings give you enough flexibility to fire troublesome employees?  Here’s how a written warning might get you into trouble.

Example: Sally’s written warning states “any continuation of unsatisfactory attendance in the next 12 months will result in termination.”  A month after you hand Sally the warning, she carelessly deletes your customer list from the computer.  The next week, a valued customer complains that he left eight telephone messages with Sally, but she still hasn’t called him back.

Should you fire Sally for her carelessness at the computer and her tardiness in contacting a valued customer?  In light of her attendance problems, most people would signal thumbs up to a discharge.

But a hearing officer might frown at the same decision.  Why?  Problems with your written warning.  It states discharge will result from further attendance problems, not from other infractions of work rules.

Seems absurd?  Who would think you could fire a troublesome employee only if he or she repeatedly violates one work rule.  Not even a judge would hold you to this statement.  But if you want to fire by bundling offenses, some judges and hearing officers may want you to first inform the employee of your intentions.

Here’s how to do it.  Let’s look again at Sally’s written warning.  Rewrite it to include broader, all-embracing language:

“The above review clearly demonstrates your attendance record is unacceptable.  This raises a serious question about your ability to work as a responsible employee with XYZ Company.  This is final notice that any irresponsible work conduct in the next twelve months… including, but not limited to, a continuation of unacceptable attendance… will result in your discharge.”

Also, it’s a good idea to include the same language in your oral warnings.  This way, employees know right off the bat they risk discharge for any unacceptable work conduct.

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