Although companies today want to give employees as much freedom as they can, there are still rules of conduct that need to be followed. But what happens when employees aren’t able to follow them?

That’s where a disciplinary policy comes into play.

Disciplinary actions are the result of non-compliance with acceptable behavior in the workplace. The purpose of any disciplinary action is always to amend rather than punish. The onus falls upon managers or supervisors to handle workplace misconduct through disciplinary actions and keep HR in the loop.

As any form of misconduct or rule violation can have long-term implications for the company, continue reading to understand the disciplinary action policy in greater detail.

What is Disciplinary Action?

Any action taken by the employer to correct an employee’s behavior is a disciplinary action. 

In every workplace, there are rules and regulations to maintain discipline and decorum. If the employee’s behavior violates a policy that directly or indirectly impacts the organization, it can be grounds for disciplinary action.

But how can the punishment match the crime? That’s where HR comes in. HR must create a disciplinary action policy to standardize the disciplinary action procedure and handle concerns in a clear and defined way.

Before moving to the implementation of the disciplinary policy, let us understand what all one should include.

Disciplinary Action Policy

Every disciplinary policy action sample must consist of the following six components:

  1. Policy Overview: An explanation of the steps that must follow of employee misconduct or performance issues.
  2. At-will Employment: The section must reiterate that employees at the company work at-will and can face termination at any time, for any reason.
  3. Steps in the Employee Disciplinary Action: Here, the policy will outline the steps to address the employee actions. Managers must document each step and keep the employee informed about the progress of the disciplinary action. Managers must consult with HR before making any final decision.
  4. Explanation of the Steps: The section will have a detailed description of how to take disciplinary action against an employee. There will be an intimation that disciplinary action may begin from any step depending upon the severity of the issue. For instance, employee tardiness may require the managers to give a verbal warning first and then a written one. However, serious offenses may require strict actions of suspension or termination.
  5. Right to Appeal: The section will have a statement and the steps regarding the decision to appeal if any employee feels they are subject to unfair treatment. Employees can raise their concerns to HR or upper management.
  6. Legal Protections: The disciplinary action policy should conclude with a statement that offers companies legal protection. A fair and just disciplinary action policy is essential to honor the legal aspects of the disciplinary process. Above all, ensure that every perspective is covered with absolute clarity to come up with a comprehensive disciplinary action policy.

In conclusion, the six components are essential to standardize procedures in the wake of incidents violating the company rulebook.

You may also want to read: 10 Must-Have Policies in Your Employee Company Handbook

Importance Of a Disciplinary Action Policy

A disciplinary action policy informs the employees about the guidelines to maintain workplace discipline. It also mentions the consequences that an employee may face if they fail to adhere to the listed guidelines. 

Here’s a broader look at its importance:

  • Ensure employee’s work and behavior are consistent with the employer’s expectations
  • Pre-empt any legal repercussions associated with the termination of any employee
  • Highlight commitment towards fair employment practices
  • Standardize the disciplinary procedure for common rule violations
  • Provide a strong and fair grievance redressal mechanism for employees to report incidents
  • Let employees appeal any disciplinary actions and complaints 
  • Help employees improve their performance

Types of Disciplinary Actions

Employer disciplinary systems act as a watchdog when there is a violation of rules or regulations. Subsequently, these systems ensure that the company takes proper remedial measures to handle employee misconduct, rule violation, or poor performance. There are three main types of discipline at the employer’s disposal: progressive discipline, performance improvement plan, reassignment, or suspension.

Progressive Discipline

It is the series of corrective measures that progresses in a defined manner to let employees improve their job performance or comply with company policies. Taking this approach ensures that the company does face legal repercussions for employee handling.

Let us delve deep into the different steps under progressive discipline:


The first instance of rule violation results in a formal meeting between the employee and the manager. Here, the manager will understand the charges against the employee and suggest corrective measures.

Verbal Warning

If there is no improvement in the employee’s conduct or performance, the manager will issue a firm verbal warning and notify HR. The manager must explain the need for their action to the employee and also provide a framework that the employee can work upon.

Written Warning

A formal written warning is the next step of the disciplinary action policy. In the letter or email to the employee, the manager should describe the issue, outline the expectations from the employee to fix the problem, and further consequences if the employee does not follow the action plan.

After receiving the written warning, the employee must acknowledge it. In addition, the manager can issue multiple written warnings before taking the next step.

Final Warning

In this step, the manager will state all the instances they warned the employee and the suggested corrective actions that the employee didn’t follow. The manager must also convey that a termination follows if there is no improvement.


Before termination, HR can force a disciplinary suspension or probation on the employee. HR should always make sure to notify the employee in writing about such steps.

This instance basically acts as a last chance for the employee to improve their behavior. In addition, employers can choose to cut the employee’s salary due to loss of work.


This is the final step after giving the employee every chance to correct their mistakes. The manager will arrange a face-to-face meeting with the employee and review all the documented actions, warnings, and notes.

Along with the review, the manager will explain that the issue persisted, and therefore, it’s resulting in termination.

You may also want to read: The Comprehensive Guide to Employee Relations

Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

A more rehabilitative approach to deal with indiscipline is PIP and training. Companies can correct performance issues by putting employees in the PIP. Subsequently, the manager can set qualitative and quantitative milestones in the PIP action plan to monitor the progress. They will also have a backup plan in case the employee misses the targets. 

Even an employee in PIP can face termination if there is no improvement. In the words of Adil Ashraf, the HR head at MotionCue, “The best disciplinary action could be to hold a one-on-one meeting with the employee to address each problem on a more personal level.”

Reassignment or Suspension

When there is a conflict or grave behavioral issues, companies can either reassign or temporarily suspend the employee. In most cases, reassigning is a rehabilitative approach that is meant to retrain. However, the suspension is a punitive approach to ensure that the employee meets a specified goal to be eligible for reinstatement.

The goal of any disciplinary action is to underline the importance of discipline in the workplace. 

Employee Disciplinary Action Form

HR must ensure there is a proper format to document disciplinary actions over time. 

The documentation of every interaction with employees is critical to support the employer’s actions. Both manager and employee must duly sign the form. There is a perception among employees that if they do not sign, they disagree with the disciplinary actions. In those instances, write “employee refused to sign” in the employee’s signature space. 

HR must share one copy of the form with the employee and maintain another in the employee’s official file in the HR department.

Here is an example of an employee disciplinary action form:

Employee Disciplinary Action Form


After discussing the best ways to discipline employees, let us now check some disciplinary action examples.

Disciplinary Action Examples

Opening a disciplinary proceeding against an employee must be a defined sequence of actions. The documentation of each step is essential from a legal perspective. 

Here are some disciplinary action examples to give you an idea about what warrants disciplinary actions.

Disciplinary Action Reprimand



What Types Of Employee Behavior Qualifies For Disciplinary Actions?

Companies censure a wide range of behavioral issues to maintain discipline in the workplace. Irrespective of how obvious it may seem, it is advisable to outline every unacceptable behavior in the company’s rulebook to keep employees informed. 

Below are behavior concerns that may warrant disciplinary actions:

  • Poor job performance
  • Misconduct
  • Sexual harassment or assault
  • Threats or acts of violence
  • Fraudulent activities such as misappropriation of funds
  • Discrimination
  • Attendance Issues such as Chronic Absenteeism
  • Theft
  • Alcohol consumption while on duty
  • Any action that may endanger the safety of colleagues
  • Reporting for work under the influence of drugs
  • Dress code violations

HR must ensure management adheres to the guidelines at all times, and managers must act upon any rule violation to maintain a safe workplace environment. Depending on management style, companies can have a zero-tolerance policy, or opt for something like a 3-strike rule. 

Now, we will explore how to communicate the employee disciplinary action plan to the whole organization.

How To Communicate an Employee Disciplinary Action Plan?

Employers must lay out their expectations from their employees clearly to maintain transparency and effectiveness. 

Here are a few methods to outline the expectations from the employees:

  • Job Description: One of the most effective ways to highlight a company’s intolerance against indiscipline is through the job description during hiring. Thus, candidates will know the expectations beforehand and decide if they can match them.
  • Company’s Brand: If a company has established itself as a brand, employees can understand the work culture and overall environment through word-of-mouth, company policy, and even the company blog.
  • Employee Handbook: Companies must have a handbook to help new hires learn more about the organization. It should contain the mission, vision, core values, HR policies, and employee rights and obligations. A day-to-day code of conduct must also be a part of it to keep employees in the loop about exactly what is expected from them.
  • Training: Employees should undergo anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and workplace conflict resolution training to cope with complex situations. Legal cases may be filed in the case of harassment and discrimination. Therefore, it is highly advisable to give employees the right training to prevent these situations.
  • Performance Review Cycle: The annual review cycle is can be a task for both managers and employees. Since it is difficult to remember everything good and bad over such a long period, a shorter performance review cycle can be adopted. In addition, managers must increase the frequency of one-on-ones with the employees to monitor their behavior, track performance, and provide feedback.

You may also want to read: The Comprehensive Guide to Conflict Resolution

The Role Of HR in Discipline

The responsibility of HR and upper management is to maintain a workplace environment where employees feel appreciated and remain productive. 

To begin with, HR can talk about the company’s guidelines and how it operates in the new-hire onboarding process. They must refer to the company handbook that includes guidelines for the workplace.

Also, the communication channel between employees, HR, and leadership must always remain open. Generally, HR formulates the disciplinary action policy of the company and assist in their documentation and appeals. 

Key Takeaways For HR

  • HR must help develop the disciplinary action policy of the company
  • Everyone from management to HR must understand that the goal of any disciplinary action is to improve rather than punish
  • HR must work closely with the leadership team to ensure the work culture is positive and productive
  • When there is any rule violation, HR must ensure that the manager is taking proper corrective measures and informing the employee. 
  • HR has to document the disciplinary actions at every step. 
  • Disciplinary actions become inevitable when a company’s reputation is at stake
  • Every corrective step must be exhausted before deciding to terminate the employee

Needless to say, a disciplinary action policy needs to be robust to function properly. HR must go out of it’s way to amend the policy from time to time to make sure that all types of situations are covered.

Are you facing issues while creating or implementing a disciplinary action policy? Reach out to us at @HarmonizeHQ and we’ll do our best to help.