Employee discipline

Discipline means systematically conducting the business by the organizational members who
strictly adhere to the essential rules and regulations. These employees/ organizational members
work together as a team so as to achieve organizational mission as well as vision and they truly
understand that the individual and group aims and desires must be matched so as to ensure
organizational success.
A disciplined employee will be organized and an organized employee will be disciplined always.
Employee behaviour is the base of discipline in an organization. Discipline implies confirming
with the code of conduct established by the organization. Discipline in an organization ensures
productivity and efficiency. It encourages harmony and co-operation among employees as well
as acts as a morale booster for the employees. In absence of discipline, there will be chaos,
confusion, corruption and disobedience in an organization.
In short, discipline implies obedience, orderliness and maintenance of proper subordination
among employees. Work recognition, fair and equitable treatment of employees, appropriate
salary structure, effective grievance handling and job-security all contribute to organizational
It is very difficult to prepare an exhaustive list of the reasons which lead employees to
indiscipline. In fact, a number of social, economic, cultural and political reasons contribute to
indiscipline in an organisation.
Important among these causes are the following:
1. Ineffective leadership which cannot control, coordinate and motivate workers.
2. Low wages and poor working conditions.
3. Lack of promotional opportunities due to which people feel stagnated.
4. Absence of any code of conduct to regulate behaviour on both sides.
5. Lack of timely redressal of workers’ grievances.
6. Unfair management practices.
7. Defective communication system.
8. Lack of workers’ education.
9. Uninteresting work.
10. Drunkenness and family problems.
11. Outside political influences.
12. Excessive work pressure.
Discipline is classified as either positive or negative. Characteristics are as follows
1. Positive discipline
It implies a sense of duty to observe the rules regulations and is also called self
It involves creation of a favourable atmosphere in the organization where by
employees willingly conform to the established rules and regulations.
Positive discipline can be achieved through rewards and effective leadership.
It is more effective than negative discipline.
Positive discipline promotes cooperation and coordination with a minimum of
formal organization and reduces the need for personal supervision required to
maintain standards
According to Spiegel, “positive discipline does not replace reason but applies
reason to the achievement of a common objective. Positive discipline does not
restrict the individual but enables him to have a greater freedom in that he enjoys
a greater degree of self-expression in striving to achieve the objective, which he
identifies as his own.”
2. Negative discipline
It is also known as punitive or corrective discipline involves imposition of penalties or
punishment to force workers to obey rules and regulations objective is to ensure that
employees do not violate the rules and regulations. Negative disciplinary action involves
such techniques as fines reprimand, demotion, layoff, transfer etc.
Negative discipline does not eliminate undesirable behaviour, it merely oppresses it. It
requires regular monitoring causing wastage of time. Punishment also causes resentment
and hostility. While exercising negative discipline, management should proceed in a
sequential manner viz. an oral reprimand, a written reprimand ,a warning, temporary
suspension and dismissal or discharge.
Alternatives to Punishment
Alternatives to punishment in eliminating undesired behaviour include the following:
a. Extinction: Find out what reinforces the undesired behaviour. For example, the unruly
subordinate may be getting praise and recognition from peers. Then get those peers to cooperate with you by ignoring the unruly behaviour. When such behaviour is not
reinforced, it will eventually lose strength and extinguish.
b. Environment Engineering: Rearrange the features of the environment so that the
Stimulus situation does not evoke the undesired response but some other response.
Skinner (1953) tells the story of a manager who had a traffic problem caused by women
hurrying down the corridor as soon as the end of the workday was signaled. The manager
solved his problem by placing wall mirrors along the corridor. The stimulus situation that
had evoked stampeding down the hallway was transformed into one which encouraged a
more leisurely and orderly walk-and-stop sequence.
c. Reward: Reward either desirable or natural behaviour, which is physically incompatible
with the undesired behaviour. If children are rewarded for taking exercise or for
performing light outdoor chores before dinner, they are prevented from excessive
snacking and television watching.
d. Adjustment: Allow adjustment, development, or maturation to take its course. New or
inexperienced employees make many mistakes and do many wrong things that they will
learn to avoid, given a reasonable period of adjustment: punishment may not hasten this
process, and it causes undue anxiety, it can actually retard this process.
Some of the key features of a sound employee disciplinary system are:
1. Knowledge of Rules
The employee must be informed clearly about what constitutes good behavior and the
rewards that may emanate from it. All instructions should be clear and understandable. It
is common sense that an employee will obey an instruction more readily if he
understands it. The supervisor himself must know all the rules. He cannot effectively
communicate with his workers if his own knowledge about rules is half baked. In fact, he
needs to know more than the barest minimum that he wants his workers to know. This
reserve of knowledge is essential in order to be able to answer several unexpected
question from workers. In other works, a supervisor’s span of knowledge and
understanding of rules should be greater than that of his workers. If this is not so, the
supervisor will lose personal prestige both before his supervisors and subordinates.
2. Prompt Action
All violations and misconducts-big and small-should be promptly inquired into. For
example, a supervisor is most unwise to wait until lunch break before rebuking a worker
for arriving late. Beat the iron when it is hot. This is because when the penalty is imposed
immediately following the violation of a rule the person punished tends to identify the
punishment with the act he committed. Accordingly, the subordinate attempts to avoid
the violation in future. This is called the “law of effect”. The greater the delay the more
one forgets and the more one feels that punishment is not deserved.
3. Fair Action
Promptness of disciplinary action at the cost of its fairness is not proper. An action in
order to be fair must possess the following characteristics:
All violations-big and small-should be duly punished. A violation should not be
overlooked or condoned merely because it is small otherwise this will give an
impression that announced rules are meaningless.
All individuals-big and small-should receive equal punishment for equal
indiscipline. If a rule is applied to one individual but not to another, the
management is bound to be accused of favoritism.
Discipline should be uniformly enforced at all times. If management soft-pedals
on taking a disciplinary action when there is shortage of labor and toughens its
policy when labor is plentiful it is acting arbitrarily. Similarly, if the management
overlooks a wrong on one occasion and punishes it on another occasion it is
acting inconsistently. Inconsistent behavior of management leads to uncertainty in
the minds of subordinates. They simply do not know where they stand.
The alleged violation should be fully inquired into. Making a mistake by hastily
administering a penalty which on the basis of facts collected later on is found to
be uncalled for will mean a permanent destruction of the morale of the punished
worker and general loss of face for the supervisor.
The employee should always be given an opportunity to explain his action. The
common law principle that an offender is innocent until he is proved guilty
beyond doubt should be followed. The burden of proving the violation always lies
on the management.
4. Well Defined Procedure
The procedure to be followed to reach to a penalty decision should be carefully laid
down. It should include the following steps:
The supervisor must assure himself that some violation of the rules has taken
He should state precisely and objectively the nature of the alleged violation.
He should then proceed to gather full facts about the case and maintain proper
records. Facts will have to be gathered concerning the nature of the event, the
participants and the surrounding circumstances. Extenuating circumstances such
as ill-health, family troubles, etc., should be found out. A critical analysis should
be made of the person’s background such as his past service record, length of
service, local practice, etc. Fact gathering is often a process of fact-sifting.
Opinions should not be mistaken for facts. The methods used for gathering the
fact must not smack of spying and statements should not be prejudged.
After all the facts have been gathered, thought should be given to the various
types of disciplinary action which can be taken in the case in question. It is
advisable to prepare three separate lists of actions. The first list should include all
types of disciplinary action to make certain that no possibility is overlooked. The
second list should classify penalties according to rank in order to acquaint the
executive with those actions which lie within his command and those for which
he should refer the case to his superiors. The third list should include only those
penalties, which the offense in question specifically calls for.
The appropriateness of a disciplinary action should be decided in terms of its
effectiveness in correcting the employee. This is very important because the
purpose of a disciplinary action is to mend an employee and not to punish him, to
help him and not to harm him.
The accused employee should have the right to appeal to higher authorities.
5. Constructive Handling of Disciplinary Action
Disciplinary action should be handled in a constructive manner. It should be carried out
by the immediate line supervisor. This employee should be told not only the reasons for
the action taken against him but also how he can avoid such penalties in future.
Disciplinary action should be taken in private. By exposing an employee to public
ridicule the supervisor attacks his dignity and social standing. This may produce an
opposite effect on the employee. He may react violently or may become obstinate to
preserve his ego.
It is most unwise for a supervisor to take a general disciplinary action against a group of
subordinates. Disciplinary action is a matter for the individual. It is the individual who
should be held responsible for any wrong. A management which takes disciplinary action
against a group is likely to set off a wave of unrest associated with falling morale and
even the possibility of wildcat strike.
After the disciplinary action has been taken the supervisor must assume a normal attitude
towards the employee. He should revert to his role of a helping hand-as if nothing has
happened. This is possible only when the supervisor uses an impersonal approach in
administering a penalty. He should not engage in personal ridicule, insult or even
criticism. He should avoid getting into an argument. In short, he must play the role of a
judge enforcing the law with impartiality.
Hot-stove Rule
Discipline should be imposed without generating resentment. Mc Gregor propounded the “red
hot stove rule” which says that a sound and effective disciplinary system in an organization
should have the following characteristicsImmediate: Just as when you touch a red hot stove, the burn is immediate, similarly the penalty
for violation should be immediate/ immediate disciplinary action must be taken for violation of
Consistent: Just as a red hot stove burns everyone in same manner; likewise, there should be
high consistency in a sound disciplinary system.
Impersonal: Just as a person is burned because he touches the red hot stove and not because of
any personal feelings, likewise, impersonality should be maintained by refraining from personal
or subjective feelings.
Prior warning and notice: Just as an individual has a warning when he moves closer to the
stove that he would be burned on touching it, likewise, a sound disciplinary system should give
advance warning to the employees as to the implications of not conforming to the standards of
behavior /code of conduct in an organization.
Depending on the nature and circumstance(s) of an incident, discipline shall generally be
progressive and shall bear a reasonable relationship to the violation. The types of discipline that
may occur are as follows in general order of increasing seriousness:
A. Oral Reprimand: An oral statement by the supervisor to a subordinate employee,
usually pointing out an unsatisfactory element of job performance, and is intended to be
corrective or cautionary. An oral reprimand informally defines the area of needed
improvement, sets up goals for the achievement of improvement, and informs the
employee that failure to improve may result in more serious actions.
The oral reprimand shall, when reasonably possible, be delivered confidentially
and not in the presence of other persons. The supervisor will record the date and
content of the oral reprimand, but no record shall be placed in the employee’s
personnel file.
The employee receiving an oral reprimand shall be given the opportunity, at the
time of the reprimand, to voice objections to the reprimand and/or offer evidence
in mitigation of the actions leading to the reprimand.
B. Written Reprimand: This is the first level of formal discipline. The written reprimand is
issued by the supervisor with approval of the department head and copies are sent to the
city manager and director. The director’s copy shall be placed in the employee’s
personnel file.
C. Salary Reduction: A department head may recommend a salary decrease of one or more
steps within the limits of the pay range established for a class as a disciplinary measure,
for a period of at least one pay period and not more than one year. The city manager’s
approval is required. Salary reductions shall be processed in accordance with Sections
3.16.050 and 3.16.060 of this chapter.
D. Disciplinary Demotion: A department head may recommend the movement of an
employee from one class to a class of work having lower responsibilities, skills,
performance requirements and maximum rate of pay. However, no employee shall be
demoted to a position for which the minimum qualifications are not possessed. The city
manager’s approval is required. Disciplinary demotions shall be processed in accordance
with Sections 3.16.050 and 3.16.060 of this chapter.
E. Suspension: A department head may suspend an employee without pay at any time for
cause up to the equivalent of five consecutive working days or two and one-half work
shifts for 24-hour assignments. Suspensions of a longer duration require prior approval
by the city manager. Suspensions without pay shall not exceed 30 consecutive working
days or 15 shifts.
Short Term. An employee suspended for up to five working days, or up to two
and one-half shifts for 24-hour shift employees, shall be notified in writing, by
first class mail to the employee’s last known address or in person, at least three
business days/shifts prior to the effective date of the action.
Long Term. An employee suspended for six or more working days or three or
more 24-hour shifts must be notified in writing at least five business days prior to
the action.
Emergency Suspension. Under certain circumstances, it may be necessary to
immediately restrict an employee from performing duties at the work site. The
circumstances usually involve potential danger to the employee, coworkers, or the
public, or the employee’s inability to discharge assigned duties satisfactorily.
Because of the need for immediate action, the decision to suspend an employee is
typically the responsibility of the supervisor. In these situations, the following
procedure shall be followed:
The supervisor taking the action to suspend an employee will immediately notify
the department head and, as soon as possible, prepare a written statement of the
action taken and the reasons for such action.
The department head shall notify the director of the action, and schedule a
conference for the purpose of evaluating and preparing the statement of charges
and documenting supporting evidence.
As soon as possible after the initial action, but not later than three business days,
the department head shall prepare written notification to the affected employee.
In no event shall the use of paid leave be allowed during a period of suspension
without pay. Should a paid holiday occur during a period of suspension without
pay, the suspension period shall be extended by the number of holidays occurring
during the suspension period.
F. Leave Reduction:
A department head may reduce an employee’s vacation, compensatory time
and/or holiday time for up to 40 hours, or 60 hours for 24-hour shift personnel, as
a method of disciplinary action. Reductions of time in excess of the limits stated
above may be imposed with the approval of the employee. Absent employee
approval, the department head may choose another form of discipline to
supplement the leave reduction.
An employee who has suffered a leave reduction may substitute other forms of
accumulated time off to enable him or her to take any previously scheduled time
G. Dismissal: A department head may recommend the dismissal of a regular employee from
city service at any time for cause. The city manager’s approval is required. Dismissal
shall be processed
The disciplinary procedure involves the following steps:
a. Preliminary Investigation:
First of all, a preliminary inquiry should be held to find out whether a prima facie case of
misconduct exists.
b. Issue of a Charge-sheet:
Once the prima facie case of misconduct is established, charge sheet is issued to the
employee. Charge sheet is merely a notice of the charge and provides the employee an
opportunity to explain his conduct. Therefore, charge sheet is generally known as a show
cause notice.
In the charge sheet, each charge should be clearly specified. There should be a separate
charge for each allegation and charge should not relate to any matter which has already
been decided upon. The charges so framed should be communicated to the individual
along with the statement of allegations on which the charges are based.
c. Suspension Pending Enquiry:
Depending on the gravity of charges, an employee may be suspended along with serving
him the charge sheet. The various circumstances which may warrant suspension of an
individual are:
When disciplinary proceeding is pending or contemplated.
When engaged in the activities prejudicial to the interest or security of the state.
Where a case in respect of any criminal offence is under investigation, inquiry or
Where continuance in office will prejudice investigation/ inquiry/trial.
When the presence of the employee in office is likely to affect discipline.
When his continuous presence in office is against the wider public interest.
Where a prima face case has been established as a result of criminal or
departmental proceedings leading to the conviction, revival, dismissal, etc.
In case of the following acts of misconduct:

Moral Turpitude

Corruption, embezzlement

Serious negligence in duty resulting in loss

Desertion of duty

Refusal or failure to carry out written orders
According to the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, the suspended
worker is to be paid subsistence allowance equal to one-half of his wages for the first
ninety days of suspension and three-fourths of the wages for the remaining period of
suspensions, if the delay in the completion of disciplinary proceedings is not due to the
worker’s own conduct.
d. Notice of Enquiry:
In case the worker admits the charge, in his reply to the charge sheet, without any
qualification, the employer can go ahead in awarding punishment without further inquiry.
But if the worker does not admit the charge and the charge merits major penalty, the
employer must hold an enquiry to investigate into the charges. Proper and sufficient
advance notice should be given to the employee indicating the date, time and venue of the
enquiry so that the worker may prepare his case.
e. Conduct of Enquiry:
The enquiry should be conducted by an impartial and responsible officer. He should
proceed in a proper manner and examine witnesses. Fair opportunity should be given to
the worker to cross-examine the management witnesses.
f. Recording the Findings:
On the conclusion of the enquiry, the enquiry officer must record his findings and the
reasons thereof. As far as possible, he should refrain from recommending punishment and
leave it to the decision of the appropriate authority.
g. Awarding Punishment:
The management should decide the punishment purely on the basis of findings of the
enquiry, past record of the worker and gravity of the misconduct.
h. Communicating Punishment:
The punishment awarded to the worker should be communicated to him in written and
the earliest available opportunity. The letter of communication should contain reference
to the charge sheet, the enquiry and the findings. The date from which the punishment is
to be effective should also be mentioned.

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