Disciplinary action is any action that corrects, molds, strengthens or perfects an employee’s performance. Disciplinary actions are to be corrective and, where appropriate, progressive in nature and designed to encourage the employee to conform to established standards of performance or conduct, except in those instances where the actions of the employee clearly make continued employment with the commonwealth unacceptable.
A thorough and objective investigation of facts and circumstances surrounding the incident must be conducted prior to taking disciplinary action. The investigation must include an interview with the employee in which the employee is provided with the specifics of the charges and is given the opportunity to explain their actions. If a union-covered employee requests it, they have the right to union representation at the investigatory interview. This is known as the employee’s “Weingarten right
Before disciplinary action is taken, it is important to determine that there is just cause for that action. There are seven criteria for demonstrating just cause:
- The employee was forewarned of the possible consequences of their conduct (e.g. at employee orientation or in a management directive)
- The rule is reasonably related to the orderly, efficient and safe operation of the commonwealth’s business and/or the performance expected of the employee.
- There was a thorough investigation into the employee’s conduct.
- The investigation was conducted fairly and objectively.
- There is substantial evidence that the employee acted as charged.
- The commonwealth has applied its rules equally and without discrimination to all employees.
- The degree of discipline was related to the seriousness of the offence and the employee’s service record.
When it is decided that disciplinary action is appropriate and necessary, the following types of action are allowed (in order of severity):
Counseling: While not considered a formal disciplinary action, counseling is often effective for addressing an employee’s first minor infraction of a work rule.
- Oral reprimand: In private, the employee is verbally warned of their misconduct. Review the specific rule or conduct in question. Clarify future expectations, with a warning that further discipline may result if the misconduct continues. Solicit the employee’s cooperation in changing the behavior.
- Written reprimand: The employee is presented with a written reprimand. The document should again include the rule, expectations, warning, solicitation of cooperation, etc. A copy is included in the employee’s official personnel file and remains on record for 2 years.
- Suspension: The employee is temporary removed from the worksite, without pay. Length of the suspension may vary depending on the offense and situation. Suspensions require executive approval, and suspension letters are prepared by or with agency personnel representatives. A copy of the suspension letter is permanently kept in the employee’s official personnel file.
- Demotion: The employee is involuntary placed in a lower class, with lower pay. This disciplinary action is rarely approved and used. It is considered in cases of poor work performance where the problem is competence, not negligence. Demotions require executive approval, and demotion letters are prepared by agency personnel representatives. A copy of the demotion letter is permanently kept in the employee’s official personnel file.
- Discharge/Termination: The employment relationship is involuntarily severed by the commonwealth for reasons other than lack of funds or work. This is the final step of progressive discipline or perhaps the first and only appropriate step for serious offenses. Terminations require executive approval, and discharge letters are prepared by agency personnel representatives. A copy of the discharge letter is permanently kept in the employee’s official personnel file. In the event of a termination, make sure that all necessary separation details are addressed.
There is an alternative discipline program that applies to some employees wherein Level 1 and Level 2 letters are issued to employees instead of suspensions without pay. The alternative discipline program applies to disciplinary actions related to time and attendance, work performance problems, or failure to pay a corporate card bill.
A union-covered employee or the union itself can protest a disciplinary action they feel is improper by filing a grievance. Find out more about grievances