Often, discipline in the workplace is seen as punishment. However, discipline in the workplace is not intended to be punitive in most cases. Discipline in the workplace must follow two general guidelines: discipline must be progressive and also be corrective.
The intent of progressive discipline is to allow an employee that displays improper or undesired behaviour a chance to improve. This is usually done by first giving the employee a verbal warning, followed by a written warning and then advance discipline if the improper behaviour continues. Advanced discipline may be a suspension or termination.
Corrective, not Punitive:
Workplace discipline is intended to be corrective rather than punitive. Thus, verbal and written warnings should clearly state the misconduct or undesired behaviour, followed by what is needed to improve and meet expectations. If the issue is substandard performance, employers must identify clear performance standards that must be met and additional training or support if needed.
One of the only punitive measures and employer has is termination of employment. Termination, however, is the last resort when progressive discipline fails. In exceptional circumstances, immediate termination for a single act of misconduct is appropriate for when the misconduct is significant and continued employment is unfeasible.
Prohibited measures of discipline:
In most instances, discipline that is punitive is contrary to employment law. Such examples may be withholding pay or suspending an employee without pay. Unpaid suspensions are only justified when an employer has grounds for termination, which would apply at advanced disciplinary stages or significant single acts of misconduct. Other forms of discipline that are also prohibited include subjecting an employee to humiliation in front of coworkers, and in most cases a demotion or cut in salary/pay.
There are remedies for employees facing improper disciplinary procedures. Damages awarded may include a monetary award for constructive dismissal, aggravated and/or punitive damages. If this is a concern, it is important to speak with an employment lawyer to assess available options.