One of the trickier issues in an employee manual is how to handle discipline.There are three tendencies that commonly cause problems: state the ideal process as an absolute, list what will get an employee fired, and spread discipline throughout the manual in bits and pieces.
The first one is the biggest problem for employers. It is easy to draft how you want the discipline process to go, with carefully thought-out gradations of verbal and written warnings, based on the usual discipline problems in a company. The challenge is that sometimes the problem isn’t usual and you need room to take more drastic action. If an employee is waving a gun at a customer and threatening to shoot, you don’t want to have to go through two verbal warnings and three written warnings before you can fire them; you want them gone now. So draft your policy in ways that allow room for immediate dismissal when warranted.
Some employee manuals provide a handy list of what will cause discipline or even termination. If the list isn’t carefully drafted, it can be read (by the courts as well as employees) to exclude anything not on the list. Even when carefully drafted, the list takes up space to repeat what should already be in other policies. If you have a Conduct policy that requires employees to speak professionally and act respectfully toward fellow employees and customers, then you don’t need to list “yelling or swearing” separately; you have it covered in Conduct. If you are tempted to write a list, instead make sure you have a policy that covers each item that you would include on the list, in context, and in positive terms (“treat others respectfully”) rather than negative terms (“Don’t swear”); usually you will be able to group several items under one policy in more general terms.
The third tendency is to add “Not doing this will lead to discipline or termination” to over half the policies in the manual. Does that mean that violating the other policies won’t? There may be some policies that deserve emphasis, especially the ones that could lead to immediate termination if violated, but it is better to delete it from most of them and have a general warning that violating ANY policy will lead to discipline. This makes it clear that all policies are important, reduces numbing repetition, and saves ink.
Best of all, avoiding these tendencies can leave you with a short and sweet discipline policy like this:
Employees are expected to follow all Company policies and to behave in ways that forward the Company’s business. Failure to follow the policies in this Manual or any behavior that negatively affects the Company’s ability to achieve its purposes may be cause for discipline. In general, discipline will be progressive and the employee will be given warning and a chance to correct the problem behavior. However, some violations may result in discipline up to and including immediate termination.