Disciplinary Action or Immediate Termination?

One of most difficult aspects of human resources is employee discipline. Although your company may have an outlined schedule of progressive discipline, different situations may warrant different consequences – and inconsistency with consequences from person to person may appear discriminatory. Add to that the complexities of human feelings and emotions, and suddenly you’re reconsidering your choice of profession.

To complicate things further, employment contracts require employers to execute the disciplinary actions outlined in the employment contract, whereas at-will employment allows the employer to, generally, discipline or terminate an employee for almost any reason.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all consequence for every behavior, here are some situations that may require corrective action versus some that may warrant immediate termination. Please note, this is generally for at-will employment and for informational purposes only. None of the following examples should be construed as legal advice.

General *examples of conduct that may result in progressive disciplinary action:
  • Inappropriate removal or possession of property
  • Working under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs (this may warrant immediate termination if being under the influence compromises the safety of the employee and/or others)
  • Boisterous or disruptive activity in the workplace
  • Negligence or improper conduct leading to damage of company, customer or co-workers’ property
  • Minor insubordination or other disrespectful conduct
  • Violation of safety or health rules
  • Employee intimidation or harassment
  • Any absence without notice
  • Unauthorized use of telephones or other company equipment
  • Unauthorized disclosure of confidential information
  • Violation of personnel policies
  • Unsatisfactory performance or conduct
  • Minor discourtesy to a customer, vendor or the general public resulting in a complaint or loss of goodwill

Most of the examples above would enter the corrective action process for first infractions, whereas a repeated offense may warrant the next level of progressive disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Disciplinary actions may entail verbal, written and final warnings prior to termination, although not all of these actions may be followed in all instances.

General *examples of conduct that may result in immediate termination:
  • Refusal or failure to follow directions from management or insubordination
  • Breach of confidentiality relating to employer, employee, customer or vendor information
  • Altering, damaging or destroying company property, its records, or another employee’s property
  • Dishonesty or theft
  • Falsification of records, including employment application, benefits forms, timekeeping, expense reimbursement forms and similar records
  • Providing false or misleading information to any company representative
  • Fighting or engaging in disorderly conduct on the company’s or a customer’s premises or off-site while representing the company
  • Threatening violence in the workplace
  • Violations of any of the company’s employment policies including, but not limited to, confidentiality, security, solicitation, insider trading, conflict of interest and code of conduct
  • Conduct or performance issues of a serious nature
  • Sexual or other unlawful or unwelcome harassment or touching
  • Possession, manufacture, sale, transfer, distribution or use of alcohol or illegal drugs in the workplace, while representing the company, or while operating employer-owned vehicles or equipment
  • Failure of a drug or alcohol test

Again, every workplace scenario is different. If not currently included in your employee handbook, consider outlining your corrective action policy to help with consistency and reserve the right to take any disciplinary action you consider appropriate at any time.

If you’re uncertain of how to handle your particular situation, please contact your Stratus.hr HR Consultant and/or seek legal counsel.

*Neither list of examples is intended to be all-inclusive.

Disciplinary Action or Termination

Deciphering whether something warrants discipline or termination can be tricky, especially if your blood is boiling. (Tip: don’t make any employment decisions when you’re angry.)

For more information, see this related video on fighting frivolous unemployment claims.

Brad Fagergren, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Author Brad Fagergren, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Brad has been a certified Senior Human Resources Professional (SPHR) since 2010. He services both local and multi-state client companies and is our in-house FMLA expert. Outside of work, you might spot Brad mentoring, chaperoning, watching, or participating in sports.

More posts by Brad Fagergren, SPHR, SHRM-SCP