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Conflict in the Office – Oh My! (Part 2 of 2)

— Conflict in the Office – Oh My! (Part 2 of 2)

Date Published: 2010-04-01
Author: Christina Harris Schwinn

Picking up where we left off last month, this second installment of this article on workplace conflict will focus on practical tips and things to consider when endeavoring to correct or discipline an employee’s inappropriate behavior, conduct or when admonishing an employee for a violation of company policy.

The terms “correct” and “discipline” essentially accomplish the same goal. While the terms “discipline” or “disciplinary policy” were the norm for many years, many companies prefer to use the terms “correct” or “corrective action policy” today as the terms convey a more positive message. For the purposes of this article, the terms “correct” or “corrective action” will be used. Regardless, the principles discussed herein apply equally to companies using a disciplinary policy.

Prior to meeting with an employee for a corrective action session, it is important to make sure that the human resource person, supervisor, or manager who will be meeting with the employee has all of the information the individual needs in order to have a productive (hopefully) meeting with the employee. In preparation of the meeting, the following should be done:

Identify the behavior or conduct that is inappropriate, when it occurred and why it is inappropriate so it can be explained to the employee.
Review applicable company policies that were violated by the employee.
Review the employee’s file to determine whether there are prior violations or if a pattern of conduct is developing.
Meeting With the Employee – Some Do’s and Don’ts[1]


Be calm. Yelling at an employee only causes the employee to shut down, withdraw or become angry, none of which produces productive results over the long run.
Explain to the employee why you are meeting with him or her.
Describe the inappropriate behavior or policy violation.
Regarding inappropriate behavior or conduct, oftentimes it is helpful to explain to the employee exactly why the behavior was inappropriate. (Do not assume an employee is going to intuitively know that his or her behavior was inappropriate.)
Describe the inappropriate behavior that occurred in objective terms.
Be clear and concise.
Give the employee an opportunity to respond, but be careful. Some employees are very manipulative.
Document the employee’s file.
Treat the employee respectfully.
Re-emphasize that the unacceptable behavior or policy violation must stop.
Explain to the employee the consequences of failing to refrain from the unacceptable behavior, conduct, or continuing to violate company policy.
Understand that you cannot make someone listen if they do not want to listen.
Remember the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Meet with an employee when you are angry.
Call the employee names.
Apologize for having to counsel the employee or blame someone else for having to counsel the employee. Avoid statements like the following: “I really don’t think there is anything wrong with what you did, but I was told that I had to meet with you by my boss.” Statements like this would be counterproductive to correcting the inappropriate behavior or policy violation.
Lie to the employee.
Keep in mind that effective counseling is not a one-sided proposition. While most employees will cooperate and correct their behavior, not all employees will. Uncooperative employees who are unwilling to refrain from inappropriate behavior and comply with company policies should be shown their way to the door.

A note to the reader: This article is intended to provide general information and is not intended to be a substitute for competent legal advice. Competent legal counsel should be consulted if you have questions regarding compliance with the law.

Questions regarding the content of this column or past columns may be e-mailed to Christina Harris Schwinn at christinaschwinn@paveselaw.com. To view past columns written by Ms. Schwinn please visit the firm’s website at www.paveselaw.com. Ms. Schwinn is a partner and an experienced employment and real estate law attorney with the Pavese Law Firm, 1833 Hendry Street, Fort Myers, FL 33901; Telephone: (239) 336-6228; Telecopier: (239) 332-2243.

[1] Note that this list is not intended to be an all inclusive list.