Employee discipline is never a fun experience to go through. It can, however, be an effective means for improving performance, productivity, and motivation, when used correctly. Like it or not, when doing less than your employer expects of you means facing discipline, you’re more likely to complete the work they request. If used incorrectly, though, discipline can lead to legal problems.
Legal Rights of the Employee When Facing Discipline
- Employment-at-will – Employers must ensure that all employees-at-will are aware of their relationship with their employer. Specifically, they must have clearly communicated that they, as the employer, have the right to terminate the working relationship at any time with or without notice. The reason for termination must be one that is legal and nondiscriminatory.
- Consistent discipline – All forms of discipline employers impose must be done consistently across races, genders, and any other protected characteristics, such as disability. This means that the employer must punish the same misconduct in the same way consistently, regardless of who's punished.
- Absences – Most companies discipline for absences that federal and state laws don't protect. Laws do protect family and medical leave, pregnancy leave, and military leave, to name the most common types. If an employer doles out punishment for these types of leave, they may be in violation of the law.
- Union support – The National Labor Relations Act prohibits an employer from disciplining an employee based on whether they are part of a worker’s union.