You must be prompt and consistent when addressing ineffective employee behavior.

The best way to do this is to utilize disciplinary procedures that are predictable, follow a logical sequence, and are easily adaptable to different circumstances.

Typical disciplinary procedures include:

  • Verbal warning
  • Written reprimand outlining past performance and prior warning(s) given
  • Probationary – and final – warning issued with a thorough accounting of employee performance and a clear understanding that violating the probation will result in dismissal
  • Dismissal

At the first sign of an issue, even before you issue a verbal warning, you should coach the employee. Sit down with them and discuss the issue

Start out the conversation by asking the employee to explain what is going on. With a lateness issue, you might say something like, “What can you tell me about being late to work?” Allow the employee to explain what is going on, then give him your perspective and offer guidance on correcting the issue.

Plan your coaching sessions even if they are informal pull aside chats. The goal is to correct the issue and lead the employee to improvement. Do not react emotionally or talk about further actions at this point. Be positive and encourage the employee. Tell the employee that you have confidence that he will correct the issue.

When you meet with the employee be sure he knows the effect that this issue is having on you, on others and on the company. Let the employee know what is expected of him.

You might say something like, “When you are late, it causes other workers to have to take up the slack and customer orders are late. Unless you have an emergency, you need to be at work on time every day.”

If you have a company policy about their performance issue, read it to him: “Our company policy states that frequent lateness could result in termination.”

Ask the employee how he can resolve the issue. “What can you do to get to work on time every day?”

One purpose of coaching is to uncover underlying issues. An employee may have legitimate reasons for the issue. Medical issues, personal issues, or issues with other employees could be the root cause. Don’t jump to conclusions until you sit down and gather the facts.

Follow-up regularly with the employee as long as the issue continues. After two or three face-to-face coaching sessions, if the employee does not improve, then it is time to move to the next step in progressive discipline.

The next step is a verbal warning. Tell the employee that the issue must be resolved, or it will lead to further disciplinary actions up to and including termination of their employment.

At the verbal warning stage specific actions, the employee must take to correct the issue should be established. “You must be on-time for work each day which means no later than 8:05 AM. In two weeks, we will meet again to follow-up on your progress.”

At this time if you have not already done so you should contact your Human Resources department to inform them of the situation and seek guidance. It is important to work closely with HR. They are the experts and can offer suggestions and guidance that can help lead to a positive outcome. You also need to be sure you are following company policy and processes.

Sometimes the mere act of escalating to a verbal warning is enough to jolt the employee into reality and the issue will be resolved. If not, then it is time to move to the next step in progressive discipline – written reprimand.

By the time you get to the written reprimand stage you have had a coaching session and given a verbal warning. The issue is clear and the employee’s unwillingness to turn things around demands escalation.

A written reprimand is very serious and should be given this way. Ask HR if they have a document you should use.

Outline in chronological order the specific issues and meetings you have had to try and correct them.

Give the person a list of ineffective employee behavior you find unacceptable. Give them actions to get back on track and include a time frame by which the employee must make improvement. The time frame typically should be weeks not months or years.

State in writing that if the issue is not resolved it can result in further disciplinary actions up to and including termination of employment.

Sign and date the document and ask the employee to sign and date the document as well. If they refuse, note on the document that the employee refused to sign.

Continue to coach the employee but stick to the time frame of the written reprimand. If you reach the end of that time frame and the issue has not been resolved it is time to issue a probationary and final written warning.

A probationary and final warning will differ in that it includes the specific actions that will be taken if the employee does not correct the issue. “You must be on time for work each day which means no later than 8:05 AM. If you are late even one day your employment will be terminated.”

Benefits of using a disciplinary process:

  • The person isn’t blindsided, which means it’s kinder and fairer
  • The person isn’t blindsided, which means they’re less likely to assume the “real” reason is something illegal and decide to sue
  • You won’t end up struggling to figure out how to have the termination conversation; it’ll be a natural outgrowth of your earlier meetings
  • Other staff members won’t start to worry that they too could be fired out of the blue one day; people will know they’ll be warned ahead of time if their job is in jeopardy

Firing for performance reasons or ineffective employee behavior should never come out of left field, but it often feels that way to the employee. This is why it is important to provide employees with feedback and document all incidents.

The Lindenberger Group, an award-winning human resources consulting firm, can help. Call us at 609 730 1049 or email us at