In The Workplace

Our Human Resource department is saddled with many employee disciplinary issues that include issuing warning notices to personally handing out dismissal letters. This consumes 70% of HR’s time, leaving it too emotionally stressed out to do other things for more than 1,500 workers. Is it the right approach? Is there a better way? — Yellow Submarine.
A beautiful lion tamer’s circus act involved having a lion come to her meekly, putting his paws around her and cuddling her affectionately. The crowd thundered its approval, except for one member of the audience who declared: “What’s so great about that? Anybody can do that.”
The ringmaster challenged him: “Would you like to try it?” The audience member replied: “Of course. But first, get that lion out there.”
An HR job can be just as spine-chilling as that of a lion tamer when it comes to employee discipline. It’s not something that any HR manager looks forward to. You have to get the lion out of the circus, if not leave its handling to professionals.
Undoubtedly, employee discipline is part and parcel of HR’s “staff” function. Repeat – “staff” function, if you know what I mean.
In Management 101, there’s such a thing as line and staff functions. It means that certain functions must be distributed and performed by various management personnel. A line function requires all supervisors and managers to carry out primary job activities of personally supervising their workers, motivating them to do a good job, and counseling them to correct their mistakes, among others.
This must not be done by HR which is limited to performing management staff functions including consultancy or giving expert advice to line executives who need them. HR knows the way on certain aspects of what’s best for the organization, which includes the sourcing of job candidates for evaluation, maintaining rules and regulations, administering pay and perks and ensuring the best conduct of all employees, among other things.
HR is not required to perform the job of instilling discipline, nor should it be allowed to conduct performance appraisals of the workers. On discipline, HR is not tasked to personally and physically issue written warnings, or suspension or dismissal orders. That job is reserved for line supervisors and managers. Otherwise, it would be disastrous for HR to oversee as many as 1,500 workers.
As a staff function, HR can provide the guidance so all line executives are trained properly and consistently on what to do with the format, substance, and content of conducting employee discipline. At times, HR may be brought in to witness disciplinary proceedings to ensure consistent and uniform application of the rules. To do just that, the following strategic approaches are reserved for HR:
One, HR must formulate, amend, and uphold the workers’ code of conduct. Incidentally, note that I’m using the term “code of conduct” and not “code of discipline” which carries a negative tone. This also means ensuring that the disciplinary policy is clearly understood by all employees, in a positive manner, written in accordance with law, and declared reasonable within industry standards.
The policy may be translated to Taglish (Tagalog-English) or the local dialect, depending on the educational attainment of the majority. If necessary, it may be reviewed by lawyers to ensure that the interests of the organization are preserved. The code of conduct may be amended from time to time to comply with the dictates of the community or industry where it is situated.
For instance, the applicable penalties must be rationalized with the current practices of other companies within the same industry so that they become acceptable to all stakeholders.
Two, HR must observe the procedural and substantive aspects of due process. This includes teaching and guiding line executives on the formalities required in administering employee discipline. To make the job of line executives easy, HR must provide a wide array of template forms and tools necessary in issuing written warnings, suspension and termination notices.
Aside from this, HR must ensure that all disciplinary procedures are done in private. In addition, if the employee has admitted fault or cannot provide a legal defense of his or her actions, HR may also encourage the implementation of alternative solutions like positive discipline, which rather than suspending workers without pay, allow them to have the same number of days with pay to think things over.
Positive discipline also includes a peer review to make the team responsible for its members and the results of its performance. However, this policy must be established in the code of conduct before the company can even consider it.
Last, HR must establish a management committee to handle dismissal cases. Depending on the personal circumstances of an employee who is being charged with violating company rules, HR should be the one to suggest that difficult cases be handled by a committee composed of all department managers. This is advisable for many reasons, including the removal of heat against HR personnel, who may often receive undue criticism or even death threats when they handle too many cases against aggrieved parties.
To avoid any suspicion that the committee is designed to pin down or allow certain personalities to go scot free, it must be incorporated in the code of conduct or other systems, including the handling of promotions and evaluating other employee movements. In the committee, HR must act as the facilitator, expert, witness and documentation secretary.
In summary, the rule is that those who have the ultimate approval in hiring should have the same ultimate approval in transferring, promoting, demoting, or firing workers. This alone is a good reason why HR should not personally handle the hiring and firing process.
ELBONOMICS: Self-discipline is all that separates good and bad people.
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