How to Discipline Employees in California without Getting Sued | Employee Performance Management

DATE: April 3rd, 2019

When an employee acts in an unproductive or damaging manner, it’s important that his or her supervisor addresses the situation. However, many employers and managers find themselves concerned about risk exposures resulting from disciplinary actions and/or terminations.  By applying employee performance management techniques and developing effective employee discipline strategies, you’re able to minimize the possibility of getting sued while building a productive environment and engaged workforce.

How to Discipline_Employee Performance Management

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to disciplining employees in the workplace, but there are steps you can take to ensure your practices are legal and effective.

1. Know the Law

First and foremost, it’s essential to understand the federal and state employment laws.  You’re putting your company at risk if you create an employee discipline strategy without understanding your rights and those of your employees – especially, but not limited to, when it comes to issues of harassment and discrimination.

2. Establish Clear Rules and Expectations

You can’t expect employees to follow the rules if those rules aren’t clearly defined or consistently applied.  After all, each of us have unique backgrounds, and we prioritize different values.  By defining company policies (in your employee handbook, for example), performance expectations (which stem from job descriptions), and consequences (typically communicated orally and in counseling memos), you can more easily correct misconduct and poor performance while establishing a positive performance-based culture that attracts and retains the best talent to grow your business.

3. Train Your Management Team on Employee Performance Management

Employee performance management is a powerful tool for improving productivity and employee engagement through open and ongoing communication – but it requires managers to “buy-into” the benefits and be consistent in its application.  With best practices like aligning employees’ daily tasks with greater company objectives and balancing positive feedback with constructive criticism, managers may find a significant reduction in the need to discipline their subordinates in the first place.  

If the need does arise, this approach is more likely to correct the performance issue at its root, and the documentation will serve to defend the supervisor’s decision against any possible allegations of discriminatory actions.

4. Create a Company-Wide Corrective Action Policy

Problems arise when every manager has a different method of judging performance and applying corrective action.  It not only puts a burden on managers who may not be equipped with the skills to objectively develop disciplinary protocols, but it also makes success feel like a moving target for employees.  Create a company-wide policy for defining performance measures (beyond simple productivity and output) and correcting unproductive or damaging behaviors.  If you don’t have the expertise in-house, consider bringing in an HR Consulting Firm – likeCalifornia Labor Solutions – that specializes in creating these types of HR policies and procedures.  

5. Document Violations & Discipline Procedures

One of the most important steps in protecting your company against an employment lawsuit is to document all violations, complaints, and actions – including examples of non-satisfactory work or behaviors and detailed accounts of attempted corrective actions.  If you’ve implemented an employee performance management methodology, you’ll have the benefit of documentation over an extended period time.

6. Take Complaints Seriously

It’s imperative to respond to and thoroughly investigate employee complaints and workplace disputes.  Not only is it legally required in many circumstances, but it also supports your reputation for making safety and fairness a top priority. By hiring a professional workplace investigation service, all parties can be sure their voices were heard by an objective third-party.  In addition, the company will learn how to prevent similar issues/complaints from reoccurring in the future and have documentation to prove that a qualified neutral investigator satisfied your legal obligations to respond to the complaint.

Protect Your Company & Employees with Customized HR Processes & Policies

Trusted in the community since 2007, CaliforniaLabor Solutions LLC (CLS) is a specialized HR consulting firm that offers comprehensive, personalized, and scalable outsourcing services designed to grow with your evolving needs. 

Boutique-style attention with large-firm expertise.  We’re committed to delivering a level of skill and range of services that would otherwise be financially out of reach to many small businesses. Our services include: HR Consulting & Regulatory Compliance, Training & Professional Development, Workplace Investigations, and Quality Management Programs.

Reduce Your Risk.