Discipline In The Workplace

In everyone’s life, at one point or another, there comes a time when we have to be told that we are incorrect, or that we are heading in the wrong direction and be told or shown the correct route. This is the purpose of progressive discipline in the workplace.

Progressive discipline at work provides a fair and equal framework for dealing with an employee who has either done something wrong, or has made a mistake that needs to be corrected. It not only informs the employee of their error but gives them a forum for feedback and, if done correctly, directions or instructions on what is expected of them in the future. This is what we all want, isn’t it?

Too often I’ve had managers approach me with the intent of getting rid of the problem employee at the first sign of trouble; they haven’t even considered the costs associated with terminating someone or the fact that this employee may correct their behaviour, if given the chance, and prove to be valuable to the organization.

Employers should have a clear policy that details the process for progressive discipline so that both management and workers are fully aware of what is involved.

Discipline, as with corrective, or punitive, action in any setting, should always be timely– you can’t sit on something for a week and then take action; this isn’t helpful to either party (unless the event requires an investigation, in which case the employee must have been informed that this is underway and the possibility of a paid enforced absence may be considered if the circumstances warrant it) and may even prejudice the eventual outcome.

Once the need for progressive discipline arises, the first step should always be to advise the employee of their shortcoming – make them aware of, or reaffirm the expectations in the workplace.

After that discussion has occurred and there has been no improvement in behaviour, the next step would be a verbal warning. There must always be documentation of this verbal warning, including the employee’s acknowledgement that it has occurred.

After the verbal warning and the situation has not improved, there must be a written warning. Each of these steps must include a conversation with the employee.

Following the written warning, with no evident change in causal circumstance an unpaid suspension is warranted..

From the very beginning of this progressive process the employee, and the union if there is one, must be advised of the seriousness of the situation and that failure to improve and meet the standards required of the workplace will result in increasingly severe penalties, up to, and including discharge.

It should also be noted that these steps are not written in stone – there may be situations where you jump to the third step and skip the second – it depends on the situation, history and facts of the case.

Always consult an expert if you are unsure as there can be legal liability when disciplining and/or terminating employees. Consultants at Pesce & Associates would be more than happy to assist or guide through the progressive discipline process.


Lee-Anne Vandenberg

HR Consultant

Why Didn’t You Tell?

Why didn’t you tell? Over the last couple of weeks since the news about Jian Ghomeshi broke, that question is being asked, and actually answered, by many women. Women who have experienced harassment, degradation and violence from men they knew. As horrific as the Jian Ghomeshi stories are, the upside has been a spark in debate and open discussion about violence against women; a long overdue conversation. For some reason the publicity of the events has led to a public safety zone where women can come forward with their stories without being shamed and blamed.

On the noon hour CBC phone in last week many women called in to answer the question the host was asking. – “Why didn’t you tell?” One after another described abuse – both physical and sexual – that they had never disclosed. Their courage and braveness in speaking out was inspiring.

For many of them the reason for not telling at the time of the abuse was shame. But also because they knew that speaking out and reporting to the police would lead to a process every bit as traumatizing as the event itself. These were primarily stories about abuse from men they knew and they were aware that the question they’d be asked is ‘why did you put yourself in a position like that?’ They knew their sexual history would become a topic for in-depth discussion and that they would have to face those who judged their past behaviour as some sort of reason for them to be abused.

All of Jian Ghomeshi’s alleged victims have reported this as being a core reason why they did not tell. By reporting the violence they would have been forced to publicly battle a beloved public figure in a “he said, she said” war. It is understandable why they would not want to put themselves through that. The system is established in a way that re-victimizes those who come forward.

It also explains why so many women suffer sexual, verbal and physical harassment in the workplace without ever speaking out especially when it comes from a person in power. Who will believe them? Who will say that they asked for it? For many it is simpler just to leave. This is understandable, but the problem is the abuser will just find another victim.

This also goes for those who are victims of bullying in the workplace. Many suffer in silence afraid of the consequences of coming forward. The greatest fear I have found is that they worry no one will believe them, nothing will be done about it other than an investigation and after it all they will have to return to working alongside the bully who is now even angrier and ready to retaliate.

How many of us have in-depth policies and procedures on harassment and bullying in the workplace? Yet from what I have seen there is still not many workplace cultures where it is believed by employees that harassment and bullying will not be tolerated, perpetrators will be stopped and victims are completely safe speaking out. And as I’m writing this I am trying to think of the reason why.

But I can’t. I suppose there isn’t one reason why. At the end of the day it comes down to strong leadership both in the workplace and society.

Those in positions of power and leadership, women and men, must stand up and say enough. We must provide a culture and society where victims are believed and not blamed. Where the perpetrator only shoulders the shame. Where we never have to ask again “why didn’t you tell?”


Elizabeth Hill
Partner & Senior Consultant