Discipline in the Workplace

Mar 16, 2010

By Cedric Lamarche
Many people in the workforce often wonder what reasonable consequences or “penalties” employers can impose on employees as a result of performance issues or misconduct.  The answer to this question will vary depending on the circumstances of every case.  That said, employees and employers alike should know that Canadian courts have consistently upheld the legal doctrine of progressive discipline.
Progressive discipline, as the name suggests, contemplates the gradual escalation of disciplinary action by an employer.  Pursuant to this concept, employers should avoid jumping the gun in handing down “penalties”.  For example, if an employee violates a safety policy in the workplace by failing to wear the proper safety gear, it would be unreasonable and unfair for the employer to immediately suspend or dismiss the employee for the infraction.  A court would likely view such consequences as being premature.
In instances where an employee’s performance or conduct is at issue, the employer should clearly provide the employee with the following:

  • An explanation of the problem;
  • The steps that should be taken by the employee to correct the problem;
  • Offer assistance to the employee to help correct the problem;
  • A timeframe within which the problem is expected to be remedied; and
  • The further disciplinary actions that may be imposed if the problem persists.

If followed, this disciplinary model encourages the early detection by management of problems involving employees and the opportunity to address them before they escalate beyond the point of no return.  Further, it allows employees to understand any problems with respect to their conduct or performance and provides them with the opportunity to take the steps required to remedy the situation and maintain their employment.
Progressive discipline implements a process which helps to prevent the premature imposition of disciplinary action by management.  If respected, it decreases the chances of successful wrongful dismissal lawsuits against employers.  If not respected, it provides employees with recourse against their employers.
Cedric P. Lamarche is a lawyer with Whitten & Lublin LLP, an employment law office assisting both employers and employees on various workplace legal matters.

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