Contemporary Employee Discipline Policies

Published 06 Mar 2017

Table of content


Organizations have been in the need for discipline in the business environment. Effective performance requires the maintenance of discipline (internally and externally imposed) by managerial and non-managerial personnel. Workplace regulations typically are rigid and detailed, raising their costs for business yet reducing their effectiveness at protecting workers. Policies to increase the supply of skilled workers are important but may not be sufficient unless jobs are available that utilize the enhanced skills. Skills alone may not lead to high wages, high productivity, or even interesting work. We need labor market policies to enhance the trend toward workplaces that rely on high levels of skill, lifelong learning, and continuous skill improvement.

These workplaces typically are quite different from traditional ones. They have been transformed so as to give employees greater ability and the incentive to improve their workplaces. Workers’ ability to generate good ideas is often strengthened by high levels of training and information sharing. Forms of worker empowerment vary widely but often include work teams and forms of representative participation such as elected committees of workers or union representatives. Incentive schemes vary as well but typically reward individuals for learning new skills, reward groups of workers for their collective success, and build cohesiveness and solidarity more than individualistic competition. Motivation is also supported when companies ensure that the efficiency gains achieved by implementing workers’ suggestions do not end up costing them their jobs.

Positive And Negative Discipline

As can be seen from various practical definitions, discipline can be positive and activating, or it may be negative and restraining. In either case, it is the force which prompts an individual or group to observe policies, rules, regulations, and procedures that are deemed necessary to the attainment of objectives.

The positive type provides workers with greater freedom of self-expression. It promotes emotional satisfaction instead of emotional conflict and results in coordination and cooperation with a minimum need for formal authority. It can be achieved best when group objectives and procedures are well known and are a basis for individual behavior.

Negative discipline involves force or an outward influence. This type of discipline need not be extreme, and it is used best in industry only when the positive type fails. Force will often cause a person to change outwardly but not mentally and emotionally. In fact, it sometimes results in “malicious obedience,” whereby an aggrieved employee does exactly what he is told to do, even if he knows the order is faulty and will result in getting things fouled up. (Kochan, 350-366)

Regulations do not work well for managers, either. Although the total benefits of workplace regulation probably outweigh the costs, often the tens or perhaps even hundreds of billions of dollars spent on workplace regulations are not cost effective. Few regulations provide incentives for managers and workers to discover the most effective means to accomplish the regulations’ goals. Similarly, laws and regulations often require regulators to use similar enforcement strategies for companies with very different compliance efforts and records. The result is harassment of “good” employers and a lack of focus on “bad” ones (Clinton 20-28). Regulatory agencies often create different definitions, inspection schedules, and paperwork requirements with no coherence to the system. Employers also resent laws that discourage employee involvement that might satisfy the goals of both workers and managers.

Finally, regulations do not work well for the regulators. Rules are difficult to modify even decades after the regulators realize they are out of date. Inspections are rare, frustrating many regulators’ desire to ensure safe, legal, and nondiscriminatory workplaces.

Discipline Measurement of Worker and Workplace Skills

Discipline is a state of good order, resulting from the fair and impartial establishment and enforcement of policies, procedures, rules, and regulations. Coordination is considered to be one of the first principles of organization. One cannot conceive of an orderly arrangement of group effort without some form of coordination to achieve a meshing of the jobs, individuals, authorities, and responsibilities. Yet, it is difficult to have coordination without orderly employee behavior. Consequently, orderly behavior which is based upon knowledge and performance of duties is essential to organization, and thus, to management. The necessary condition to obtain this orderly behavior has been called discipline. Here we see an inseparable relationship: discipline is essential to coordination and coordination is essential to organization.

It would be naïve and unnecessary to elaborate on the matter of importance of standard system of rules. By formulating a general policy for the governance of conduct which can be advanced upon its merits and uniformly applied, we can expect the optimum of cooperation from our personnel.

As applied to modern personnel management, judicial due process involves establishing “laws,” or rules which cannot be violated with impunity; setting specific penalties for infringements upon these rules, with progressive degrees in the severity of penalties; and imposing the penalties upon infractors only after determining the extent of guilt, and taking any mitigating circumstances into consideration.
The due-process concept is based upon four assumptions which are usually upheld by arbitrators. These are: (1) the rules must be “reasonable”; (2) the employee must have a clear idea of what is expected of him; (3) the employer has a right to have a well-disciplined, cooperative work force; and (4) he has the authority to administer discipline when rules are violated. (Wollenberger, p. 27)

Disciplinary Procedure To Be Followed

Once the grounds for disciplinary action have been established, it becomes necessary for the manager to follow the correct procedure in taking any action against a subordinate.
Adherence to established orderly procedures is the essence of the due process concept of discipline. As injustice thrives on privacy, the best guarantee of truth is the free exchange of views between the accused, his accuser, and their representatives in an open forum. No method assures this exchange as well as an orderly disciplinary procedure.

In order to meet the test of judicial due process, discipline must be properly administered by the superior in accord with previously promulgated rules. Penalties should be based upon specific well-defined charges, with notices given to the employee and union, usually in advance of management’s attempt to take correction action.

Penalties Imposed
After the grounds for action have been established and the proper procedure followed, it becomes necessary to impose the penalty.

Types of penalties:

First, there is the simple oral warning which is not placed on the employee’s record but can be recalled as evidence later on. Actually, it is inadmissible as a basis of proof and is usually only intended as instructional. The next type is the oral warning that does go on the employee’s record and helps avoid the charge of gathering evidence after the fact.
The written reprimand, which is the third type, usually comes from a source higher than the immediate supervisor. It is more official and may be challenged by the employee.
Suspension, the fourth type, is an even more serious penalty, which usually consists of a layoff lasting from a short period of days to a number of months. Management must be consistent in its use of suspension and equate the layoff to the seriousness of the offense.
The ultimate in penalties is the discharge. This constitutes a break in service and wipes out the worker’s seniority. Most arbitrators are reluctant to sustain a discharge, because it is the economic equivalent to capital punishment, especially since it affects a man’s family as well as himself. (Duffy, 1)
Some other penalties used are demotions, transfers, and withholding of benefits such as promotions, raises, or bonuses. Demotion or transfer is generally used only if the employee is still of value to the organization but is involved in a personality clash or is on a job which is above his ability.

Incentives for Managers

The personnel manager’s view of this control function has switched from the traditional one of discipline as punishment to the modern approach of internal self-control, orderly behavior, and the judicial due process. Discipline is not merely punishment; it is also training which corrects and strengthens. Unions have played a major role in bringing about this change in philosophy. Their impact shows up not only in company policy but also in the supervisor’s role, regardless of whether the firm is unionized or not. But no matter how much influence unions have had on the disciplinary process, the right to discipline is still a prerogative of management; the main change is that personnel managers must be sure they follow the due-process procedures.


It is proper to conclude from the information available that discipline is necessary for the success of management. This chapter has associated discipline with leadership, communication, and motivation, for regardless of the way an individual visualizes the term, there can be no denial that discipline plays an important role in holding an organization together.
Employee discipline is a process of control. As such, it is a method for the maintenance of authority by management, and this authority is necessary to keep the enterprise going on a profitable basis.

Works Cited

  • Clinton, William J. “The New OSHA: Reinventing Worker Health”. National Performance Review 10, 1995 no. 1:20-28
  • Duffy, Shannon P. “Casellas: EEOC Suffering Backlash”. Legal Intelligencer (June 20, 1995): 1.
  • Kochan, Thomas A. “Using the Dunlop Report to Achieve Mutual Gains”. Industrial Relations 34, no. 3 (July 1995): 350-366
  • Wollenberger, Joseph B. “Acceptable Work Rules and Penalties, A Company Guide,” Personnel, Vol. 40, No. 4 July, 1963, p. 27
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