How To Exert Meaningful and Lasting Discipline

Jim Luff
Posted on December 17, 2017
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Most small- to medium-size operators lack formal training in human resources management. Progressive discipline is a technique used by large organizations to help correct bad behavior while preserving your investment in an employee.

Why Progressive Discipline?
When you hire a new employee, you may incur a big cost before the employee ever earns the first dime. A professional background check costs a fee. You have spent time interviewing the employee and likely sent them for a pre-employment drug and alcohol screening. At this point you are likely in more than $100 in administrative costs just to hire a person and set up an employment or DQ (Driver Qualification) file.  

Next, the expense of training begins to accrue as you pay both the new employee and a manager (possibly yourself) to train the new hire to your standards. Because of this significant investment of time and money, firing an employee for an infraction isn’t good business. Instead, it’s far more feasible to engage in progressive discipline to give an employee a chance to improve as well as give you the opportunity to retrain or correct the employee’s bad behavior.

How Much HR Do You Need?
In our business, human relations managers (HR) might be overkill unless you have more than 50 employees. We are generally focused on giving great rides and acting in a professional manner. Most of our work takes place inside a vehicle. While you might not need a full-time HR manager, you might consider hiring someone who has HR experience such as an HR benefits clerk or similar past employment history to work as your office manager or even an administrative assistant position. They should be able to help guide you in using progressive discipline in your organization and to manage people. Remember, your goal in hiring administrative staff should be based on complementing your skills or lack of skills and training, and then letting them do their jobs.

A key component of progressive discipline is to document discipline as it occurs, including the date, the discipline issued, reason for disciplining, and efforts to correct the employee’s behavior in the future. In fact, in some cases you may need to place an employee on “probation.” This resembles criminal probation. A probation period is an agreement in lieu of being terminated. The employee is allowed to continue working for the company under the condition that if terms of the probation are violated within a specified period, then firing is immediate. Probation periods are generally issued in 30, 60, or 90 days, but for more severe violations of policy, may extend to six months or one year. It’s important to document probation in the employee’s file so both parties are clear on the expiration of probation periods. We will cover more about what needs to be documented below.

Managing vs. Reacting
It is natural and human to become angry when an employee does something that damages your equipment or your good name while carrying out their duties. However, anger and decisions about an employee’s future should never occur in the heat of the moment. There is nothing but time. You can suspend an employee if you need time to think about a course of action and what the employee has done. Was it a lack of training that caused the issue? Was it insubordination? Could this have happened to you or anyone else? Was it misjudgment? Never react in anger and yell, “You’re fired!” It can hurt you and your company in some cases. In our society, we are all given second chances beginning as a child and progressing through our school years, and heaven forbid the court system. If we go to traffic school, we can have a speeding ticket dismissed. We have to give chances as employers as well.

Verbal Reprimand
This is the lightest form of discipline and is basically a slap on the hand for a misdeed. You counsel the employee on what he did wrong and why, and tell him you expect better in the future. While it’s referred to as a “verbal,” you still should document it in the employee’s file so you remember the incident in the future. It should be a very simple memo.

Written Reprimands
In the case of a written reprimand, the infraction is more serious in nature or may follow a series of verbal reprimands about the same issue. A written memo should be signed by the employee and the manager/owner issuing the discipline. This formal document should list the date and details of the violation, and explain consequences if it happens again.  

This does not mean the employee is on probation as mentioned above, unless you wish to make probation a condition of a reprimand. This should not be done on a first violation unless it is extreme. Often, large companies have first, second, and third written reprimands before firing an employee.  

In some cases, repeated violations of policy are best addressed by placing an employee on probation. In the criminal judicial process, violators are spared jail time and given probation to prove they can conform to the rules of society instead of being jailed. In work related probation, the employee agrees to correct bad behavior or stop violating policy in exchange for being given a second chance. As mentioned, the terms of probation need to fit the employee’s violation. If an employee continually fails to fuel a vehicle, a light, 30-day probation can be scheduled with the agreement that termination is automatic if any vehicle is returned without fueling in the next 30 days. However, if an employee engages in an inappropriate sexually charged conversation with another employee, a one-year probationary period or more serious discipline would be warranted due to the severity. In such cases, you must document it as it demonstrates you took serious action.

Suspensions are intended to serve two purposes. First, when you terminate an employee, you are legally required to pay them on the spot. You cannot make them wait until payday. It’s against the law. So, if you place an employee on a three-day suspension, you have time to cut their final check as well as having an opportunity to cool down and review the situation. The second reason is punitive. The employee has no income while they sit out on suspension and it’s highly effective if the employee enjoys working for your company. If they don’t, they are likely to go seek employment elsewhere and spare you the need to terminate them as they will voluntarily resign during their suspension.

Contractor Discipline
This guide is intended to help operators who use an employee model. It does not address issues related to I/Os who might work for you. We caution here that the definition of an I/O is INDEPENDENT, and this means you cannot discipline an I/O because she is her own boss.

However, under I/O business models, to qualify for such status, a written contract must bind the two parties. Make sure you cover your operating standards in the contract. If a problem arises, the contract should have sufficient verbiage to address the available remedies. At the very least, you can issue a letter stating the contractor is failing to uphold your standards or has been found to violate the contract terms. You can issue a warning the contract will be terminated if the contractor fails to correct the issues. This would be legal as long as your contract contains a notice either party may terminate the agreement based on a certain number of days notice to the other party.    
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Related Topics: employee issues, employee management, How To, human resources, staff training

Jim Luff General Manager
Comments ( 1 )
  • Anthony

     | about 3 years ago

    This industry is a transportation industry and most of a coporate hr guidelines dont apply. This is a simple job of taking passengers from point A to point B. You will not have any issues with your chauffeurs as long as you understand how to operate a transportation business. Quality pay = repeat customer = referrals = growth = industry reputation Duplicating the typical limousine service with the same mentality = problems. A corporate service has success by following those guidelines... such as Black tie san francisco... their vehicle fleet is an example.

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