Like many of you, I am still reeling from the brutal season opener of The Walking Dead. Looking at the episode through the lens of an employment lawyer, a few thoughts came to mind: first, Negan’s managerial style is a tad harsh; second, he could really use some training on positive motivation techniques; and third, I think I can spin a blog post about how to discipline employees from this awful, gory episode! So here are four tips to help you navigate the risky waters of employee discipline, no Lucille required.
Long before an employee turns into a member of the Walking Dead, you should be clear and specific at the outset of employment in terms of what is expected of them regarding job performance and compliance with policy. In addition, you should periodically remind employees of your expectations. For example, when Negan rounded up Rick and his group, he clearly communicated his expectations: give me half your stuff or there will be severe consequences. He also informed the group of his “one free outburst” policy and cautioned that a second violation would result in immediate termination. When a second violation of the policy occurred, Negan again reminded the group of the policy and took prompt action to enforce the policy.
Be calm and consistent
When making disciplinary decisions, you should not act on emotion. Take time to reflect on a decision, and investigate the situation if necessary to ascertain what happened. If you do decide to take action, the punishment should fit the crime and be consistent with disciplinary action taken against other employees who engaged in similar infractions.
In Negan’s case, he certainly took ample time to reflect on his actions before clobbering a member of Rick’s group. I would venture to guess that Negan’s punishment was also consistent with action he has previously taken against others who have violated his rules and failed to meet his performance expectations. On the other hand, Negan’s method of using “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” to determine who would be singled out for punishment would certainly be deemed an arbitrary and unreasonable employment practice by the EEOC, so please avoid using this particular disciplinary method in your workplace.
Document, document, document!
Of course, no employment law discussion is complete without discussing the holy grail of HR—documentation! You should document in writing every disciplinary action you take—even verbal warnings. Also document that you spoke with an employee about job performance and expectations. Documentation does not have to be lengthy or overly complicated; a simple memo to file or an e-mail to the employee summarizing your conversation will suffice.
To ensure accuracy, your documentation should be generated close in time to the event being addressed. When documenting specific disciplinary action, be sure to present the document to the employee and ask the employee to acknowledge receipt of the discipline. If the employee refuses to sign, make a note that the “employee refused to sign” to prove that he or she was placed on notice of the discipline.
Seek guidance, and keep it short and sweet
For all his evil charms, Negan made a colossal mistake in meting out discipline to Rick’s group. He should have run the termination decision by HR first! Also, he spoke off-the-cuff about who he was disciplining and why. When you are the one at bat, you should prepare talking points about what you are going to say to an employee at termination time before you meet with the employee. Once you know what you’re going to say, be honest about the reasons for the termination, and don’t beat around the bush. Negan droned on and on about his termination decision to inflict maximum psychological terror on Rick’s group, but you should keep the conversation brief and avoid the need to defend the decision or rehash all the underlying facts.
Most importantly, what you tell the employee concerning the reason for his or her termination needs to match what is written on the termination paperwork. And whatever you do, don’t tell the employee that he or she is “taking it like a champ” when you deliver the bad news.
Finally, keep in mind that many walking dead employees can avoid turning in the first place if you foster a fair and positive working environment from the get-go. Don’t be a Negan. Treat your employees with respect and avoid ridiculing employees or “bashing” them in front of their coworkers. Although such behavior makes for compelling television, it has no place at your company.
Until next time TWD fans!