August 3, 2020
A Complete Guide to Managing & Documenting Corrective Actions

As a business owner with employees, you hope for the best from your team members. In a utopian professional world, everyone would perform their jobs beautifully with an upbeat attitude every day. And of course, all of those employees would get along swimmingly, with no need for corrective actions.

Alas, you’re operating a company with humans, so errors and performance issues are bound to occur occasionally. 

This is why all employers should have a corrective action process along with a progressive disciplinary policy in place. Armed with a clear and fair process, an organization will deliver more effective disciplinary actions so that employees can improve their behavior. The company can also avoid potential lawsuits if the issue escalates.

The keys to effectively managing corrective actions include:

  • Understanding exactly what corrective action (and a corrective action plan) is
  • Knowing when and how to handle corrective actions
  • Creating a discipline policy that details the process and helps protect the company

What is Corrective Action?

Also known as disciplinary action, corrective action in the human resources world is a formal way of addressing and documenting the need for behavioral change.

Typically, corrective action should come after an employer has tried other methods like coaching, training, and performance management. Inform the employee and give them a reasonable opportunity to improve before disciplinary action. 

If these attempts fail to improve the employee’s behavior, it may be time to implement your disciplinary process and a corrective action plan (CAP), also referred to as a performance improvement plan (PIP).

When to Discipline Employees

So you’ve tried the methods above, but the problems persist. Either the employee continues with frequent absences, or they simply can’t seem to adhere to rules or management instructions.

It’s now acceptable to start the disciplinary process. Make sure you do so as close to the infraction as possible, but not in the heat of the moment. You might start by addressing performance concerns or productivity issues during the individual’s performance review if the timing is appropriate. 

Use discretion, have the conversation privately, investigate the issue, and consider all the facts. Then move forward by calmly disclosing the disciplinary action.

How to Handle Corrective Actions

As a manager, it’s important to remain focused on the employee’s specific issues and keeping things professional and confidential. Sometimes, it may be necessary to loop HR into the process.

When handling corrective actions, be honest, specific, and straightforward about your concerns and how you expect the employee to improve. 

Stick to the facts and cite specific examples of performance discrepancies or work rule/policy violations. This ensures the employee knows exactly what needs improvement. You can even give them specific recommendations and requirements.

Communicate the issues and your expectations clearly so that the employee understands the consequences if their performance does not improve. Also, be sure to give them ample opportunity to give both a verbal and a written response.

A few things to keep out of the conversation and written warnings include:

  • Emotionally charged language and discussions
  • Generalized matters, commentary, and legal conclusions
  • Non-work related issues

As we’ve discussed in our post about employee terminations, document every step of the process. From the moment you begin the disciplinary process to the written warnings and if it comes to an unfortunate severance, documentation is extremely important. 

Documentation informs employees of what is expected of them and the consequences if they fail to meet expectations. It can also help management respond to potential lawsuits.

Tips for Written Warnings

Usually, the first step in the disciplinary action process is a verbal warning. The next step, if required, would be the written warning. This is also when employers would implement the CAP. 

Here are a few additional tips for improving the written warning process and avoiding company liability.

  • Give the written warnings promptly. Bad behavior should be addressed right away in order for corrective action to be effective. Timely warnings will be tied to legitimate concerns rather than examples of alleged discrimination or retaliation.
  • Don’t sugarcoat it! Tell the employee the real reason for the warning so they know the specific issue. This encourages honest discussions within the workplace. Staying consistent with the true reason will also help in subsequent lawsuits, whereas inconsistent explanations for discharge can lead to discrimination charges.
  • Specify the policy violated and the impact of the infraction. Tell the employee exactly which policies they’ve violated and how it can hurt the company along with their colleagues. If possible, explain the financial loss or safety risks to their fellow employees. Specifically identifying which rules have been violated can also help your company’s defense in future litigation.
  • Skip the mountain of documents. Giving the employee documentation or a laundry list of every error or example of misconduct will be overload. The warning should focus on how the employee can improve, so you don’t want to distract from that goal. 
  • Reference previous verbal or written warnings. While you don’t want to attach every piece of documentation, it can help to mention prior written warnings (within the last five years) related to the current conduct issue.
  • Follow through with any steps outlined in the warning. Whether this means weekly meetings between the supervisor and employee to check on the employee’s progress or suspension at the next violation, stick to your plan. This will show your entire organization that you take matters of misconduct seriously.

What Should Be Included in a Corrective Action Plan?

Once you give an employee a written warning, you might want to create a corrective action (or performance improvement) plan to keep them on track and monitor their progress. A CAP describes step by step how you plan to resolve a problem.

A thorough CAP should:

  • Provide a standard way to address misconduct and performance issues
  • Offer premade templates describing what type of information you need in the plan
  • Provide a process to start, research, implement, and conclude a CAP
  • Clarify team member responsibilities
  • Specify what types of issues require a CAP

In order to be effective, a PIP should be specific and detail the problem with the following information:

  • Stakeholders
  • Resources available to solve the problem
  • Constraints
  • Due dates
  • Metrics for completion
  • Progress updates

Contact BlueLion for help with creating your CAP templates.

What Should Your Progressive Discipline Policy Include?

Every employer should have a discipline policy in place that outlines the corrective action process. This structure helps prevent further employee misconduct and performance issues. 

If you are updating or creating a new discipline policy, be sure to share it with all current employees right away. It should also be provided to new employees as part of their orientation.

The typical progressive discipline procedure is structured as follows:

  1. Counseling and verbal warning
  2. Written warning
  3. Suspension and final written warning
  4. Recommendation for termination of employment

Each of the above steps should be described so that supervisors, HR members, and employees alike are aware of the process and how it would affect them. Additional sections in the policy should: 

  • Explain how the appeals process works
  • Specify issues that are NOT subject to progressive discipline
  • Give guidelines for documentation

Get in touch with us for help writing your business’s discipline policy.

Establishing a Disciplinary Action Process

Like many other areas of human resource management, documenting disciplinary issues and corrective actions is vital. It plays an important role in both helping the employee improve their performance and protecting your company in the case of potential litigation.

Whether you need guidance on handling corrective actions, putting a discipline policy in place, or developing corrective action plan templates, BlueLion will help you get the job done and keep your business moving forward. Contact us today at 603-818-4131 or to learn more about our services.

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.