How "Timely" Should A Disciplinary Action Be?

[font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 10-22-02 AT 02:24PM (CST)[/font][p]One of our Supervisors just issued a Verbal Warning to an EE for turing in an inaccurate timesheet. The EE called in sick for a shift, but had done her timesheet in advance and did not correct it. This happens fairly often, and we usually issue a discipline because it's against policy. The problem is that the discipline was written on 09/19/02, but not issued to the EE until 10/21/02. A difference of one month and a few days. Now the Union is squawking to me that the discipline was not "timely" and should be recinded. I wanted to get a sense from my fellow HR folks what an appropriate amount of time would be for a discipline of this kind. How long is too long? Thanks. One more thing: When asked, the Supervisor said that she was "too busy" to attend to this issue sooner, which I know is nonsense.


  • 19 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Supervisors who are too busy to handle these matters need to get therir act together. They are probably the same types of supervisors who send people home in the name of discipline when there is no need to send an employee home.

    The amount of time you describe is too long for administering discipline for what appears to be an administrative issue. Under your circumstances in this type of case, I suggest no more that a week should go by since that is probably the latest that the infraction might be caught via the processing of payroll.
  • I agree. This is way too long for this type of infraction. It should have been addressed as soon as it was discovered. Being "too busy" is a cop out and the reason why so many of these type issues fall through the cracks. Perhaps this person is too busy to be an effective supervisor.
  • Holy MOLY that is way too long. If that had happened in my neck of the woods you can bet the SUPERVISOR would have been written up as well as the employee. One week should be max IMHO.
  • I agree, without an investigation, a month is too long. And the supervisor's explanation doens't really help.

    But I wouldn't necessairly withdraw it (unless your contract with theunion indicates that it should).

    The are a couple of considerations here to help decide...

    1. At the time the supervisor talked to the employee, what was really said about a written warning. Did the supervisor at all indicate that there would be a written warning forthcoming or did he just leave it at "And don't do this again. Get back to work"? In short, is the written warning truly unexpected by the employee or was he just hoping it wouldn't be issued after th esueprvisor said that it would be?

    2. Did anything happen between the date of the conference or incident upon which the written warning was based and the issue date of the warning that would have been impacted by the warning had it been issued sooner? Hopefully not.

    3. How important or serious was the incdient upon which the warning is based? Is there a resonable chance th eemplyee may do it again?

    4. Can you settle for a written counseling -- whihc in essence would do the same thing as the written warning --and withdraw the warning or is it all or nothing?

    I don't think that there is any specific time period that can be set --"reasonable time period" comes to mind but saying a specific number of days would be wrong. A lot depends on what the superivsor or other managers are doing. In the intervening time, the employee should have been left with the impression that a warning was forthcoming. In this case, the supervisor's explanation doesn't bode well for saying the one month was reasonable. If he had been on vacation, been pulled away for special assignment, been invesigating the incident, etc., that should there was some constant activity that was properly engaged in to prepare for the issuance of a warning or that prevented the supervisor or other manager from writing it, the case could be made that the 30 days was reasonable in that circumstance.

  • I agree that it is a long time, but I would not rescind it just because the union squacks. The union is paid to complain, and will complain about many things if they think it will get them ahead.

    Unless your contract requires the discipline to be rescinded or the employee is somehow prejudiced, I would keep it in place. From the facts, it sounds like the employee is not disagreeing that she violated policy. If you can resolve it by issuing a lessor discipline, you might want to do so.

    Even if you keep the discipline in place, you may also want to counsel the supervisor about timely discipline. I would explain to the supervisor that the failure to give this discipline timely cost the company time and money in dealing with the union and lowers the morale of employees.

    Good Luck!
  • The plot thickens. Apparently the EE and the Supervisor had a rather loud argument just two days before the Supervisor got around to issuing the Verbal Warning. The Supervisor is adamant in claiming that the argument had no bearing on the timetable, but the Union is not buying it. Also, our Union contract does not address the timeline issue. Thanks to all for the feedback.
  • >The plot thickens. Apparently the EE and the Supervisor had a rather
    >loud argument just two days before the Supervisor got around to
    >issuing the Verbal Warning. The Supervisor is adamant in claiming
    >that the argument had no bearing on the timetable, but the Union is
    >not buying it. Also, our Union contract does not address the timeline
    >issue. Thanks to all for the feedback.

    Well, that supervisor should be admonished...because it doesn't look good. It looks like retaliation for the argument. NO amount of denying from the supervisor is going to change the mind of the union on this. If there is no provision from the union, make sure that the verbal warning is documented for what it is and kept in the file. If the union wants to grieve it, let them...just have all your ducks in a row (facts).

  • There is nothing I hate more than having a discussion with the union and not having all the facts. I would write up the supervisor for withholding vital information. Also, in my company, HR reviews all warnings whether written or oral. This is not a delay since an answer can usually be given immediately.
  • Why don't you settle with the union.

    Withdraw the warning memo; issue it as a counseling memo; doesn't go into the employee's official file. If there is no repetition of the condicut in that first incident, it won't be referenced in the evaluation for the period and everyone moves on.
  • I wouldn't 'settle' anything at this point! There's been no grievance. These discussions with the union should have been short circuited three conversations ago and they should have been reminded that they have the right to grieve formally. The contract apparently addresses the progressive discipline system, but not any magical timeline for recording the events in the process (ours does the same). There is no dispute that what occurred did occur, I assume. That being the case, let them file a grievance and the first written response level should provide that the discipline was in order, did occur timely and stands; however, the official recording of the event was delayed for unknown reasons but that fact neither adds to nor detracts from the consequence of the violation or the relevance of the discipline. May we also assume that a member of the union officer group or steward attended the discipline session, or that the employee waived the opportunity to have them present? Where I'm going with all this is simply: If the occurence of the discipline itself is in dispute, perhaps you might "can" it. Otherwise, don't cave in on this one. The housekeeping detail of reducing it to writing for the file is not the main issue here. Beyond this answer, an admonishion to the supervisor is certainly in order. While you should certainly insist to the supervisor and your management group that untimely reduction to writing is critical, don't play that same card with the union.
  • The union has come up with a great defense -- the employee was previously insubordinate and this minor write up is in retaliation for the subordinate behavior.

    I am also wondering what the argument was about and why the employee thinks that it is okay to get into a shouting match with the supervisor. Sounds to me like you need to get with your supervisor and find out what occured. Unless the employee was asserting some sort of unlawful discrimination in the "shouting match", I would not excuse the employee's behavior. The employee may be lucky that he or she has not also gotten written up for disruptive behavoir or insubordination.

    Good Luck
  • Disruptive behavior and insubordination are two of the toughest things to prove when there's a union contract in place. Beyond refusing outright to perform an assigned task, insubordination, given a union environment, is a really tough one. Disruptive behavior is just as tough, if not moreso with a union in place. Union reps and NLRB agents, themselves openly biased, can run you in circles to their amusement with both of these. I still have heard nothing that disproves or disputes the occurence of the disciplinary session that was documented late. If it's in dispute, we should know that.
  • Sorry. Really busy today. That the infraction occurred has never been denied. The Union is basing the whole thing solely on the lateness of the disciplinary action, and the charge that it was in retaliation for the argument. Don, you are absolutely correct in your assessment of how difficult it is to prove insubordination, as well as disruptive behavior. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Supervisors to engage in shouting matches with employees. In this case, the EE was told that she had to stay past her shift.... mandatory overtime, which is allowed in our contract, and she became angry. The Union feels it was justified (of course) based on her claim that she was concerned about securing adequate childcare.
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 10-23-02 AT 05:58PM (CST)[/font][p]Traditionally, the charge of "insubordination" has been limited to written orders giving the deadline for compliance and the consequence for non-compliance -- discharge.

    Where it has become a difficult to support a severe disicplinary action for "insubordination" either because the instruction was given verbally or it was clear that the employee was really being defiant but may have just failed to proerly do the job, it is possible to charge a less onerous offense, such "failing to follow instructions" with a less exacting disciplinary response (one more keeping with the concept of progressive discpline, perhaps). It's probably in this second group that most day to day situations occur where the supervisor thinks of "insubordination."

    I would still settle once the greivance had been filed. Look you can play the games of reqiring to go through all three levels before seetlling, or even playing "chicken" by denying the grievance at th third level and requiring arbitration to be filed and then settling. But, obviously you will need to settle. A position that the warning needs to stand is untenable
    Clearly the union has a strong case of retaliation to make. The superivosr's write up is untimely given the intervening incident and lack of reasonable explanation for the 30 day turn around time.

    Your statement that the incident has not been denied is interesting. I really don't understand it. Has the employee denied the occurrence any incident similar to what is described in the warning or has he just not commented on whether any type of incident occurred or not? And if the latter, why didn't the superivsor talk to the employee (investigate)and others (f any witnesses, which I suspect don't exist) before he decided to issue a warning? Why didn't the supervisor know the employee's position on the allegation BEFORE he wrote the warning? Just what WAS written in the warning?

    Is the union saying, the incident didn't occur and if it did occur (assuming the fact finder during a grievance step or even the arbitrator rules that it did), the warning that was issued was not in response to the incident, as demonstrated by the long time before the issuance but by the intervening alleged act of disagreement between the superivsor and the employee? Thus the warning should be rescidned, the union argues, because the incidnet never occurred and if it did occur the warning was in retaliation for the disagreement (the superivsor had no intent to issue the warning until after the disagreement occurred.)

  • Hatchetman has listed more assumptions than the law allows, it seems. I haven't read anything above that indicates there was a dispute over whether or not the discipline took place. I have read clearly that the discipline was documented timely, but, issued to the ee a month late. There seems to be indisputable evidence that what occurred did occur. The union's gripe seems to be only that the ee was given the writeup late. The untimely flow of paper does not in my opinion erase the fact that there was a violation and that it was disciplined. Suggestions about things not actually taking place and witnesses not existing seem to be rather speculative. If Crout has a thin-ice case for the discipline and whether or not it took place, and whether or not the contract was followed in disciplining the ee, he surely should remove any mention of the discipline. If the union's case is merely that the document followed the discipline late (not that the discipline wasn't justified and didn't occur) and that there is a suspicion of retaliation - AND the company can prove otherwise, I still would not back off the discipline. Discipline 30 days after a violation AND the documentation of good discipline being late, are two totally different things. the first is unworkable but the second is worth explaining. Arbitrators can occasionally be reasonable.
  • Don,, you've made the biggest assumption. You assumed that the superivsor in that meeting indicated that there would be a warning issued.

    We don't know what he said. He may have said that "the counseling was sufficient and don't engage in the behavior again." Or, he may have said nothign about what he was going to do in the future, leaving the emplyee with the reasonable belief that the meeting was the end of the issue. Then when the second incident occurred, knowing that the practice has been not to discipline employees for that they of behavior, to issue the warning for the earlier behavior, "recanting" his original closure with the employee.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the employee's account on that basis differs from the supervisor's -- that the employee essentially says, the conference meeting was the end of it as the supervisor didn't indicate anything about a written warning later and that the counseling was all that was needed; while the supervisor says that he would be issuing a written warning in follow up to the meeting within the next few days.

    If an arbitrator is going to hear both sides of that isse, who do you think is going to look more credible? A supervisor who had no reasonable explanation for delaying the issue of a warning memo for 30 days and idd so only after an intervening incident between the two, the nature of which isn't disciplined? I don't think so.

  • I don't think its productive to assume anything at all or to read between invisible lines. I'm only trying to go by the original post and Crout's updates along the way. Somewhere along the way, we've begun to build Swiss watches out of imaginary parts.
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 10-23-02 AT 07:11PM (CST)[/font][p]If I were an evil HR dictator, I'd dump the mess on the supervisor's boss. Tell him that more than 150 HR professionals from across the country looked at the problem and, gosh, no one had an easy solution (all true). Then ask HIM to decide whether he wants to let the woman get away with it or to spend company resources fighting the union over it. x0:)

    OK, back to reality now....

    James Sokolowski
    Senior Editor
    M. Lee Smith Publishers
  • James, you have no idea how much I'd like to do what you suggested. However, my position dictates otherwise. I think what Don recently posted is my best course of action. The core issue for the Union is that the Discipline was issued 30 days after the incident occurred. They have never argued that the EE is innocent because she simply is not, and we have good documentation to prove it. Moreover, I feel that the charge of retaliation is groundless as well. The Supervisor has been with us for several years, has an excellent record, and this is the first time such a charge has been levied. To my mind, without evidence to substantiate the charge of retaliation, the 30-day issue alone is not sufficient grounds to rescind the Verbal. Thank you one and all for the input.
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