How to Write an Employee Disciplinary Policy

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Laying out an explicit employee disciplinary policy is critical for hotel and restaurant managers. Without a detailed disciplinary policy, employers can find themselves in a lawsuit situation as I pointed out in a previous article titled “Dos and Don’ts of Employee Disciplinary Action” in Restaurant Hospitality magazine.

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This article breaks down the components of an employee disciplinary policy, typically a part of the employee handbook.

Part 1: State the purpose of the disciplinary policy

  • The purpose is typically to communicate the following:
    • Standards of conduct in order to avoid undesirable/unacceptable behavior from employees
    • Consequences of undesirable behavior on the part of the employees
    • Investigation procedures and employee and employer rights in the event of disciplinary action against an employee

Part 2: Describe the discipline system

Most organizations follow some form of a progressive discipline policy where certain behaviors and policy violations warrant a less severe type of discipline before more serious disciplinary procedures are imposed. Typical steps involved in a progressive disciplinary policy include two or more of the following:

  • Counseling
    Directive counseling is where the manager attempts to control the conversation. It is used to correct simple performance issues and make immediate, on-the-spot corrections.
    Indirect counseling is where the manager’s job is to listen as opposed to talk. Employees develop action plans to correct their behavior, arguably resulting in more buy-in leading to desirable behavior change.
    Participative counseling is where the manager and employee work together to develop corrective actions for the employee
    • Oral warning
    • Written warning
    • Suspension
    • Termination

The procedures and documentations associated with each of the steps above need to be described as well. It should also be noted that some of these steps may be skipped based on the employer’s discretion, and based on the circumstances surrounding each case.

Part 3: List several examples of employee misconduct

Some organizations specifically list violations that would result in verbal warning or written warning. In addition, some organizations may also list behaviors that could result in immediate termination. When such lists are included, there should also be a cautionary note stating that the items in the lists are not meant to be exhaustive but rather to alert employees to most common employee conduct violations.

  • A review of disciplinary policies of various hospitality organizations revealed the following to be typical behaviors that may result in immediate termination or suspension pending investigation:
    • Theft, fraud, or dishonesty
    • Acceptance of bribes
    • Unauthorized disclosure of confidential information
    • Falsification of timesheets, expense claims, or other documents
    • Insubordination
    • Violation of anti-discrimination or anti-harassment policies
    • Violation of drug or alcohol policy
    • Intimidating, threatening, using abusive language, or engaging in violent behavior against managers, co-workers, or customers
    • Violation of dress code or stated appearance standards
    • Unexcused absences or tardiness or leaving the job for unapproved breaks
    • Violation of workplace safety rules
    • Violation of cleanliness, health, or sanitation procedures
    • Acting as an unauthorized agent
    • Bringing disrepute to the employer
  • Alternatively, an organization might identify specific behaviors that categorize as “gross misconduct” that would result in immediate termination and other behaviors that categorize as “misconduct” that would result in implementing two or more steps in the progressive discipline policy.

Part 4: State complaint registration and investigation procedures

  • Employees who have harassment, discrimination, or other complaints should be informed of the designated person(s) they may report the complaint to. It is essential to designate multiple individuals and not just the direct supervisor in the event that the complaint is against the direct supervisor. Employees also need to be made aware of the investigation procedure if there is a complaint against him/her. The procedure typically includes the following steps:
    • Identify witnesses and other persons involved with the incident and interview them
    • Setup a meeting with the employee and listen to him/her without judgement
    • Reach a mutual agreement or solution
    • Notify employee of formal action included consequences if misconduct is repeated.

Part 5: Advise managers and supervisors of disciplinary policies

To insure that disciplinary policies are being implemented consistently across the organization, supervisors and managers should be advised to consult with human resources personnel and/or senior management personnel prior to taking disciplinary action, especially if it involves termination.

CAUTION: The employee handbook is considered to be an implied contract in 42 states. In these states, if an employer engages in disciplinary action that is inconsistent with the established disciplinary policy, it could be construed as breach of contract. If an employer is in one of the 42 states where the employee handbook is considered an implied contract, and hence an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine, they need to explicitly state that the information contained in the employee handbook is meant for informational purposes only and is not a contract.

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