The purpose of disciplinary action is to turn performance, attendance and conduct problems around by continuing to identify problems, causes, and solutions. If you can accomplish this in a positive and constructive way, you will send a message that you are not out to punish, but to help the employee become a fully productive member of your work unit. If there is no improvement or if repeat occurrences follow corrective action measures, you may have to take progressively more serious actions. When deciding what disciplinary action to take, keep in mind that discipline is supposed to be constructive. While your overall goal is still improvement, the consequences for the employee’s failure to improve are much more serious. Prior to issuing any disciplinary action, you are still required to first review your concerns with the employee and allow him/her an opportunity to respond before taking action. In most cases, a letter of warning is the first appropriate step in progressive discipline.
Letter of Warning
If you gave a verbal warning or letter of concern/expectation to an employee and the problem performance or behavior persists, a letter of warning may be effective. You may decide to use this disciplinary action more than once to get the employee's attention and correct the situation. Be careful, however, not to get stuck issuing repetitive letters of warning that fail to influence the employee to change his/her behavior, attendance or performance. The letter should include the following:
- Description of the performance or behavior problem(s) or rule violation(s) in very specific detail. Attach any relevant documents that support your conclusions.
- Outline previous steps taken to advise the employee about the issue (coaching sessions, performance appraisals, previous disciplinary actions) and attach copies of referenced documents, e.g., letter of concern.
- Describe the impact of the problem (safety issues, need to reassign work).
- Note the employee's explanation (as revealed during your meeting with the employee before issuing the discipline) or that the employee declined to offer one. If the employee’s response was unacceptable, explain why.
- Reiterate your expectations regarding behavior and/or performance.
- Conclude the letter with the advisement that failure to improve could lead to further disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.
- Provide appeal rights pursuant to the appropriate collective bargaining agreement or PPSM
- Before issuing the letter, contact Employee & Labor Relations for review of your draft letter. You are required to consult with Employee & Labor Relations before issuing any disciplinary actions, including letters of warning.
Suspension without Pay
This is normally the next stage in progressive discipline after written warning(s). Suspension typically involves removal of the employee, without pay, from work. Suspensions can range from one day up to three weeks. Depending upon the applicable collective bargaining agreement or PPSM, you may be required to issue a letter of intent to suspend, which provides the employee with the right to respond either orally or in writing before the suspension action is implemented. Managers and supervisors are required to consult with Employee & Labor Relations before issuing any disciplinary actions, including suspension without pay.
Termination is the only option available if all other attempts to correct the employee’s performance, attendance or behavior have failed. (In very rare and extreme cases, such as job abandonment, suspected criminal activity, or an act that endangers others, the offense may be so grave that progressive discipline is not necessary and termination can be imposed without prior discipline). Generally, termination actions require written notice of intent to terminate and an opportunity for the employee to respond prior to the final decision. Managers and supervisors are required to consult with Employee & Labor Relations before terminating an employee.
In certain serious circumstances, you may place an employee on an investigatory leave to allow the University time to review or investigate the allegations without the employee in the workplace. Placing an employee on investigatory leave does not mean that you have already reached a decision on the matter, the purpose of the leave must be to allow the University time to investigate the allegations or secure the worksite during the investigation. Potential allegations of misconduct warranting an investigatory leave include but are not limited dishonesty, theft or misappropriation of University property, fighting on the job, insubordination, acts endangering others, or other conduct which warrants removing the employee from the work site. In general, employees must be informed in writing of the reason and the expected duration of the leave. Depending on the applicable University policy or collective bargaining agreement, you must provide the employee written notification before or immediately following being placed on the leave. Managers and supervisors are required to consult with Employee & Labor Relations before or immediately following placing an employee on investigatory leave.
(Note: Portions of this material are adapted, with permission, from UC Berkeley’s Guide to Managing Human Resources: A resource for managers and supervisors at Berkeley.)