Q: What is the difference between having a progressive disciplinary policy versus a corrective action policy?
A: We continue to recommend that organizations have a disciplinary policy, but urge care and caution when writing one and when implementing it. First, we recommend that it not be termed “progressive,” but instead call it a corrective action policy. “Progressive” implies that you will always follow the same steps in the action you take. We strongly recommend a good disclaimer to provide leeway for more serious situations where the employee would be discharged immediately (such as violence, theft, etc.). This one has been successful in several court cases. It is not always necessary that the corrective action process commence with verbal counseling or include every step. The above options are not to be seen as a process in which one step always follows another. Some acts, particularly those that are intentional or serious, warrant more severe action on the first or subsequent offense. Consideration will be given to the seriousness of the offense, the intent, and the action of the individual, and the environment in which the offense took place. Management has the right to use any of the corrective steps it feels, in its own judgment, properly respond to the situation.
Q: Does an organization need to take any actions about an employee who is known for making off-color remarks and inappropriate jokes if no one has complained about him?
A: With inappropriate behavior or incidents that may be viewed as sexual harassment, an employer must take action if they knew or should have known there was a problem. In a situation such as this, we strongly recommend that there be a discussion with the supervisor and, more than likely, some of his subordinates. The discussion with the supervisor should be clear that such behavior is not tolerated and the conversation should be documented. EEOC guidelines require training for all employees, supervisors, managers and line staff. If you do not have a strong anti-harassment policy, you will want to start by developing and implementing one.
Q: May an employer discipline an employee who reports to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, even though the actual usage occurred off premises during non-work time?
A: Yes, assuming the employer has a substance abuse policy and can prove the employee violated the policy by being under the influence (impaired or hung over). Such proof is important because states are increasingly passing laws that protect off-the-job use of lawful substances such as alcohol.