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Don’t delay: What happens when disciplinary action is postponed

Many employers decide to leave disciplinary matters for a later date or to overlook matters of concern to avoid conflict. However, when handled well, conflict can have a positive impact on an employee’s performance and behaviour after they have made an error.

Although, “Just wait until your mother/father gets home,” may be an effective parenting method for some, transferring this method of delayed discipline to the workplace leaves much to be desired and can, in fact, lead to unwanted conflict and legal repercussions down the line.

Delays in the discipline process can have the following results:

  • Employees are anxious

When you delay discipline and the relevant employee is aware of their error, it often leads to anxiety and unproductivity. This happens because the employee can become fixated on the problem to be discussed and mentally consumed by constructing a defence.

  • Evidence is lost

When you delay discipline, you allow the evidence for the error on the part of the employee to get away. Reconstructing the facts at a much later point often leads to misrepresented, exaggerated, or understated claims. Taking decisive disciplinary action and detailing events and relevant documents is easier when it is done sooner.

  • It devalues legitimate issues

When you don’t take decisive disciplinary action soon enough, it may appear that the error of the employee is less serious than it is. It also sets an undesirable precedent and could lead to peer resentment for the employee who has made the error.

  • It often comes across as unfair (and can be construed as such)

When discipline is delayed (especially with the addition of the above factors), the eventual discipline can feel like a personal, discriminatory action. It raises the legitimate question of why action wasn’t taken sooner.

Quick, decisive action, on the other hand, has the following results:

  • Course correction

When discipline is taken quickly and decisively, it leaves the employee in a position to correct their action going forward and encourages unity in the workplace. Good disciplinary procedures will set out a clear description of what went wrong, with a clear action plan to improve the employee’s behaviour or performance going forward.

  • Fair hearings with relevant evidence

When action is taken without delay, it allows everyone to gather the most relevant available information. Everyone can share their experiences and present their best case before a plan of action is made. The employee is also given a fair opportunity to appeal the decision made with the case they present.

  • Better case for escalation if the issue persists

Often, bad behaviour or poor performance persists if action isn’t taken timeously. It then makes it much more difficult to escalate your approach if no formal disciplinary action for the first instance of misconduct has taken place. Not only is decisive action good for correcting the behaviour, but it also ensures that there are no delays to escalation if the situation does not improve.

  • More respect for management

Good managers lead well. If you set a clear example every time of how discipline is approached in the workplace, you only stand to earn respect. Too many managers are seen as weak leaders for their inability to take action when conflict arises.

Don’t let poor behaviour or performance slip and cause you unnecessary problems down the road. Get in touch with your Labour Law adviser to ensure that the policies and procedures that you have in place are both secure and relevant and make your workplace an environment that is conducive to fast and effective conflict resolution.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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