Periodically it becomes necessary to meet privately with an employee to discuss problems with his conduct or work performance. Such meetings can merely be counseling sessions (i.e., discussions) or they can be more formal disciplinary sessions.
The difference between the two depends upon your aims for the meeting. If you wish to have an exploratory discussion to find out what is wrong and to constructively criticize conduct or performance, a counseling session is appropriate. If you wish to discipline or punish an employee for more serious or repeated misconduct, a disciplinary session is in order.
Conducting Counseling/Disciplinary Sessions
How you conduct counseling and disciplinary sessions has a lot to do with their success.
First, the meeting must be held in private, in a quiet, uninterrupted setting. You may wish to include a witness, such as a trusted associate or the Personnel Administrator. Never use a departmental peer of the employee being counseled.
Second, the tone of the session should match the purpose.
- If the session is for counseling, the meeting should be less formal, more comfortable, and supportive. The conversation should focus on constructive criticism, problem discovery, and proposed solutions. While this should be done in a supportive way, it is also necessary to communicate to the employee the negative consequences of continued problems.
- When the purpose of the meeting is disciplinary, the session should be formal and the tone serious. The idea is to impress upon the employee the serious nature his actions, the impending consequences if he does not improve his behavior or performance, and the issuance of the disciplinary report, suspension, or termination, as the case may warrant.
Third, your investigation of any incident or your documentation of a series of problems must be thorough and detailed. Do not go off half-cocked to write somebody up before investigating. You may have an incomplete picture of what happened and be embarrassed when the full story comes out.
Fourth, after telling the employee the reason for the meeting and relating the incident or allegations as you know them, give him a chance to tell his side of the story. He may have mitigating circumstances or a very different version of what happened. His story may require further investigation or corroboration. You may need to call other people in as witnesses or to contradict his version.
Fifth, after hearing his side of the story, decide what action you will take and prepare the Record of Employee Counseling, describing the incident or problem, allowing him to offer any response, and providing your summary of the counseling or disciplinary action.
Last, present him with the Report. Ask for his signature. If he chooses not to sign, so note it. Make sure the Report is complete. Provide the employee with a copy; send one to Personnel Administrator for inclusion in his Personnel File, and save one for your departmental files.
Documenting the Session
The key to successful disciplinary actions is good documentation. Supervisors have two documentary tools at their disposal – Staff Notes and the Record of Employee Counseling.
As previously mentioned, Staff Notes are daily or weekly notes made about staff performance. They should contain instances of tardiness, absences, failure to follow instructions and procedures, complaints, arguments or disputes with other staff, instances of outstanding performance, etc. These brief notes are invaluable in helping a supervisor reconstruct circumstances, give details in review sessions, or document continuing disciplinary problems of a minor nature.
Records of Employee Counseling are to be used for formal documentation of problems when you wish to give the employee a copy. These reports must be filled out completely and accurately. If you fail to enter a date, fail to sign it, fail to present it to the employee, or fail to get his signature or note “chose not to sign,” the record may be useless as documentary evidence.
Right to Respond
Each employee subject to a disciplinary action or unsatisfactory performance review has a right to respond. Such response should come within 7 days of the report or review.
Supervisors should consider the response, amend the report or review if warranted, and attach the response without alteration to all copies of the disciplinary report or review (Personnel File copy and departmental copy).
Choosing Not to Sign
Employees are requested to sign all disciplinary reports and performance reviews, but have an absolute right not to sign. The absence of the employee’s signature will not affect the validity of the document, so long as you note that it was presented to him. If an employee chooses not to sign, you do this by writing “chose not to sign” and the date on the signature line. Do not use the words “refused to sign” as this connotes coercion or lack of choice.
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