In The Workplace

I’m the newly hired human resource (HR) manager with a family-owned business, which is managed by an extremely paternalistic owner. Whenever a worker commits a violation, the 76-year-old chief executive officer (CEO) will not approve punishment, even for those committing major offenses like pilferage. The CEO believes in compassionate justice, preferring to demote violators to firing them. The middle managers, including the CEO’s two sons, have no choice except to follow their father’s dictates. About 30% of our workforce are the CEO’s distant family members. How should I manage this situation? — Rainbow Connection.

You have no choice but to follow the CEO’s “compassionate justice system.” It’s his business, unless you can prove that such a system is doing more harm than good to the organization. Take the pulse of all line leaders, supervisors and managers on their perceptions of the system’s effectiveness.

Try using free survey software. You can ask questions about the compassionate justice system, and how effective it is in instilling employee discipline. Does the system produce repeat offenders? Given the choice, would you rather fire violators or manage them?

The survey can also give you an idea of the number of violators currently working, and whether they pose challenges that are difficult to resolve. What are these challenges? How are you managing them? And so on.

The result of this survey should help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of compassionate justice. Before conducting the survey, obtain the approval of your CEO so your efforts do not go to waste. The idea is to get as much information about the workings of compassionate justice so you can fully appreciate the logic of the system.

Speaking of family members, consider a positive discipline system in lieu of compassionate justice. If you don’t want to directly challenge the CEO, then you might want to offer “positive discipline” to manage troublemakers. It’s a type of progressive disciplinary system that seeks to go the extra mile before penalties are imposed, depending on the nature of the offense:

One, double the number of verbal warnings. If an employee has violated the tardiness policy, for instance, the line leader must immediately talk to the violator, first thing in the morning. This verbal warning must be documented by a formal memo stating that the employee was reprimanded. Such a memo must be signed by both line leader and worker. This memo establishes the fact that a reprimand has been issued.

The same procedure must be repeated in the event of another such violation, with a more strongly worded memo. Such reprimands are typically delivered in the afternoon or one hour before the close of office hours. The reprimand must also include an offer of assistance from the boss to discover the challenges the worker is facing in and out of the workplace.

Two, ask the violator to take a paid leave of absence. Instead of penalizing a violator with suspension without pay, offer three to five days of paid time off, or even longer depending on the circumstances. Deduct such leave from the violator’s vacation and sick leave credits.

This “penalty” is an opportunity for self-reflection. The ideal outcome is that the violator understands the consequences of their behavior on their career and on the organization. This type of leave is considered effective, especially if the organization allows the cash conversion of unused leave credits at the end of the year.

Three, allow the violator to resign rather than be dismissed. This option is preferable to going through the trouble of the substantive and procedural due process that accompanies dismissals. This can replace the extremely paternalistic approach of demoting a violator, which tends to be more challenging for line leaders.

The sooner the violator agrees to resign, require them to submit the resignation letter within one hour after the discussion with HR and the department boss. If the violator fails to submit the resignation letter at the agreed time, then prepare an incident report, issue a notice to explain, and all the other steps required to comply with due process requirements.

Four, require all line leaders to report all violations to HR. There’s a saying — “Trust, but verify.” HR must be informed of all employee violations, big or small, so it can take the necessary action, including the issuance of memo-circulars reminding all workers and their managers of certain policies that are frequently violated.

As a new HR manager, this is your best chance to prove your worth to the CEO, middle managers, and workers. Consult with them extensively. Make sure any move towards positive discipline is consistent with the company’s mission, vision and value (MVV) statements.

If compassionate justice is inconsistent with the MVV, make an appeal to reason with the CEO. Many CEOs would not hesitate to agree with positive discipline if you can prove it to be superior to compassionate justice.


Join Rey Elbo’s June 23, 2023 Benchmarking Event on Managing Problem Employees at Dusit Thani Hotel. For details, chat with him via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or e-mail or via