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Discipline versus Coaching: When an Employee Does Something You Don’t Approve Of

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

When an employee does something that you don’t approve of, what do you do? It depends on the severity of what’s happened. Before you move to discipline them, there are a few things to consider. As a leader you have a duty to keep employees safe and to minimize risk to the organization. People are your best asset but bring complexities to the workplace which can cause risk.

Some of those risks are:




- Workplace incident or injury - Harassment, bullying - Misuse of company resources - Theft - - Litigation due to employer’s lack of due diligence - Failure to accommodate for disabilities

- Onboarding time wasted - Employees learn the wrong behaviours and reduce productivity - Internal inequity - Difficulty hiring - Complaints from customers - Constructive dismissal

- ​Brand and reputation are impacted - Loss of productivity and revenue

So, how do you react? To mitigate risk, the employer must have clear, easy-to-follow policies and procedures that are applied consistently. But in the moment, you may not have the time to refer to a policy for guidance. To be ready for these situations, keep these steps in mind.

  1. Ensure safety

  2. Ask "why" and listen to understand

  3. Coach conversations

  4. Apply progressive discipline

Safety is always the first priority. As a supervisor or employer, you have a duty to keep employees safe. Check if a safety concern played a role in what happened—both physical and psychological safety. If so, work with the employee to find solutions to working safely. This might include training on how to handle situations, reviewing workplace hazards, getting the right tools to do the job, or having proper accommodations for any of the protected grounds under human rights legislation.

Once safety is either ruled out or handled, ask the employee about the behaviour. You must be ready to listen to understand their point of view and what drove them to do it. Do not make assumptions! When employees do something that the employer doesn’t approve of there are two reasons: they either didn’t know or didn’t care. Meaning: the employee may not have known that what they were doing was inappropriate, incorrect, or not part of the process. This is easily corrected with coaching. Alternatively, the employee may have known it was not the right thing to do but did it anyway. It’s essential to understand why they chose to do what they did since that will direct your next steps.

Coaching conversations should be a regular part of any workplace and are an effective means of addressing poor behaviour. These conversations aren’t formal and may not even be documented but the employer must do their due diligence in ensuring that the employee understands what the expectations are and that they have, or are working towards, the skills needed to meet expectations. There is no set limit to how many coaching conversations a supervisor has with an employee.

You may reach a point where the employee understands what’s expected of them, but still isn’t doing the right thing. At this point, revisit the first 3 steps:

  • Is safety a barrier to doing the right thing? Are accommodations needed to do the job?

  • What is preventing the employee from meeting expectations?

  • Does the employee understand the expectations, the timeframe, the required behaviours to do it?

Once you’ve clearly answered the above questions, the coaching conversations should be documented, and you can move into your progressive discipline process. Progressive discipline is another tool to support the fair, clear, consistent application of discipline in the workplace. Stay tuned for more on Progressive Discipline next month.

Handling employee behaviours is not a linear, one-way journey. People are unique, which makes the workplace and the scenarios we deal with, somewhat complex. The asking-listening-coaching-discipline process is cyclical and may go around a few times depending on a number of factors. Leaders should remember to think of safety first, ask to understand without assuming, make time for coaching conversations, and finally to move into the progressive discipline process as a final effort. Doing these consistently, applying them fairly to everyone, and following a clear process will help mitigate some of the risks and support employees to continue to grow and develop.

Your HR business partner, or services like our 4-Hour Monthly HR Advice Package, can help you adopt best practices that apply to your unique organization and jurisdiction.

For professional HR advice that you can trust, contact us today!

Lisa Isaac HR Professional Services

From the LIHR team and lead collaborator, Lisa Isaac.

Book a free consultation today Click here

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