Setting Up an Effective Corrective Action System
Corrective action is not just a matter of documenting performance problems. An effective corrective action system is also a way to help employees improve. The right approach starts with laying the groundwork with a clear policy, training of managers and follow through on the system you have set up.
The End Goal is Not Termination
Rather than approaching corrective action as a path to termination, consider it a way to try to save an employee who is struggling at work. Unfortunately, some situations do end in termination, but the hope is that an employee will take the warning as a way to improve and keep their job.
Corrective action is generally made up of coaching, documented verbal warning, written warning and termination. Avoid a progressive discipline policy that requires you to go through all these steps because sometimes issues are serious enough to jump immediately to a written warning or termination. Instead, your policy should include flexibility in the way you are able to approach a discipline problem that could include automatic termination for certain policy violations and starting with coaching for others. Coaching and warnings are a good way to put the employee on notice that there is a problem and to give them guidance on how to improve.
When giving warnings, include details about the policy violation or performance issues, an explanation of the related rule or policy and expectations for change. For example, take an employee who has repeatedly been rude to customers. The performance issue would be bad customer service, and you can reiterate what your handbook says about this. The expectation is that the employee will immediately improve their communication with customers. Some managers make the mistake of setting up a timeline for improvement on an issue like this. In reality, things like poor customer service, snapping at coworkers or even tardiness should change as soon as the employee leaves your office. It is acceptable to provide an expectation that includes a timeline for improvement when the problem involves relearning a skill or task.
When you meet with an employee to go over a performance issue, be clear on explaining the issue and what you expect in terms of improvement. Allow plenty of time for questions, and ask the employee how you might support them in improving.
Consistency is important in corrective action. Treat similarly situated employees the same way. Failure to do so could result in claims of discrimination. Develop a process for common types of corrective action. For example, the process for attendance problems can look similar from employee to employee. When dealing with a less common corrective action situation, pull files of employees who have had similar problems and review how the issue was handled before.
The key to building consistency in the corrective action process is training managers on how to handle the situation. Having HR involved in the process also ensures that corrective action is being administered fairly companywide.
Document & Follow Up
Document all corrective action meetings. Even if there is a warning document, make a few notes about what was discussed, concerns raised by the employee and plans for improvement. This is especially important for meetings where you coach the employee without issuing any kind of written warning. This will give you a record of the meeting for the employee’s file—something that helps with consistency and keeping track of when you talked to an employee about an issue.
Documentation also shows that you have given the employee ample opportunity to improve. This is useful if you need to justify a decision to take further corrective action, such as termination or a change in job duties.
Do not forget to follow up with the employee in the weeks following the corrective action meeting. It does no good to set a goal for improvement if you do not follow up with the employee to see if they have improved. If the employee has improved, let them know, and continue to follow up and reinforce the improvement with positive feedback. If an employee continues to have issues, take the appropriate steps in providing further corrective action.
About the Author
Stephanie Hammerwold, PHR, is the co-owner of Hammerwold & Pershing and specializes in small business HR support. Stephanie writes as the HR Hammer and is a regular contributor at Blogging4Jobs and The HR Gazette, and she gives presentations on a variety of job search and workplace topics. She specializes in training, employee relations, women’s issues and writing employment policy. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.