employee-disciplineDealing with employee misconduct or failure to abide by company policy isn’t always high on most employers’ lists of favorite things to do. But it’s also one of the most important aspects of being an effective business owner. Having clear policies in place—as well as procedures for enforcing them—is one of the key elements of running an efficient organization.

The importance of having clear disciplinary policies extends beyond the day-to-day interests of your business. Failure to have a clear policy (and to apply it with uniformity and consistency) can open your business up to claims of discrimination, which may have far-reaching effects on your ability to run your company.

Uniform, consistent application

With any discipline policy, the first step is making sure your employees are aware of and understand it. Aside from being clearly outlined in your employee handbook, the key to an effective employee discipline policy is twofold: it should be applied uniformly to all employees and it should be enforced consistently.

When faced with a disciplinary issue, several steps should be taken to ensure uniform application of the company’s standards. Employees should always be notified that there’s a problem. You’ll want to explain the problem, identify how it violates company standards and explain what needs to be done to remedy the situation. There should be a timeline and clear steps for fixing the problem, as well as clear consequences for failure to do so.

While uniform application of a discipline policy is fairly straightforward, executing it with consistency can be somewhat trickier. The key is to apply the policy consistently to employees in similar situations when the violations are also similar. This requires a bit more care, as factors including the employee’s tenure, position and general track record should be considered in addition to the nature of the violation.

Avoiding discrimination claims

Enforcing an employee discipline policy with uniformity and consistency isn’t just a way of ensuring compliance from your employees—it’s also an important way to protect your company from accusations of employment discrimination, which may be easier to justify when policies are not applied fairly and consistently. If employees can credibly allege discrimination based on ability or disability, age, gender, race, sex or religion, your business will find itself in hot water. Finally, in the event that an employee files a discrimination claim, it’s absolutely critical that you not retaliate in any way, as this can create further liability for your business.

Due to its complicated nature, the establishment and application of an employee discipline policy is something best discussed with an experienced labor and employment attorney. A lawyer with knowledge and understanding of employee discipline policies will help you ensure the strength of your policy and work with you to prevent claims of discrimination.

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected employment law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.