Simply stated, discipline is your response to problem behaviors and misconduct. No matter how carefully you structure the management on your farm there are inevitable dilemmas and predicaments with employees. How you react, impulsively or with preplanning, may prevent future confrontations, difficulties and perhaps, even legal action.
- Bored Hog Employee
- Sample Discipline Policy
- Discipline and Termination
- Late Again
- Additional Resources
Five Rules of Fairness
University of California
With a well prepared employee handbook, including guidelines about your expectations and disciplinary actions; orientation of new employees; appropriate direction by supervisors; and communications between key personnel, you will not have a situation such as the following:
Bored Hog EmployeeGregory Encina Billikopf
University of California
A swine producer explained that one of her workers needed to be disciplined for "misuse of tools."
The employee, it appears, must have been very bored one day because he took the swine ear notch-making tool and notched the family dog. Not content with notching one of the pet's ears, he did both of them.
The swine producer fired the worker. Moments later the herd manager told the farmer that the employee had to stay until the end of the day because he was desperately needed.
When one of the producer's sons found out what had happened, he reversed his mother's decision entirely, and unfired the worker.
Several weeks after this situation took place the culpable worker was still on the payroll. What went wrong?
This hog story may be a bit hog-wild, but most employers have heard a horror story or two. A consistent discipline policy might have prevented this bad situation from getting worse.
A discipline policy notifies the employee know what is considered unacceptable on your farm. A discipline policy and a discipline plan also details to the employee what the consequences will be.
Sample Discipline Policy
From Rules and Reason for Managing Farm Personnel
Howard R. Rosenberg
University of California
Employee Conduct and Work Rules
To assure orderly operations and provide the best possible work environment, the management of this farm expects employees to conduct themselves in a manner that protects the interests and safety of all persons here as well as the farm in general.
It is not possible to list all the forms of behavior that would violate this general standard and be considered unacceptable in our operation.
The following are examples of conduct that may result in disciplinary action, including formal warning, suspension, and termination of employment:
- Theft or inappropriate removal or use of company property;
- Falsification of time or production records;
- Working under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs;
- Possession, distribution, sale, transfer, or use of alcohol or illegal drugs in the workplace, while on duty, or while operating employer-owned vehicles or equipment;
- Fighting or threatening violence in the workplace;
- Negligence or improper conduct leading to damage of employer-owned property;
- Insubordination or other disrespectful conduct;
- Violation of safety or health rules;
- Unauthorized absence from ranch during the workday;
- Unsatisfactory performance or work output.
Excerpt from Rules and Reason for Managing Farm Personnel, by Howard R. Rosenberg, University of California
If You Have To Fire Someone
Know what you will say, i.e., reasons for dismissal.
Discipline and TerminationBernie Erven
Ohio State University
Discipline is an unpleasant responsibility. Doing it poorly only compounds the unpleasantness. Doing it well, on the other hand, reduces employer frustration, increases employee morale, makes the firing of an employee rare, and reduces the threat of legal action by disgruntled former employees.
Effective discipline can be made a management strength. Building a reputation as a fair but tough disciplinarian is a goal with many
- Take effective preventive action to promote employee self-discipline and to minimize the frequency of disciplinary action.
- Use effective disciplinary techniques including the hot stove rule and progressive discipline.
- Reward supervisors and employees for their efforts to minimize disciplinary action.
Guideline One - Take effective preventive action
Create the environment
Preventive action emphasizes the creation of an environment where disciplinary action is rarely needed.
What appears to be luck in hiring good people or employer leniency is in fact the payoff from the employer's careful application of several preventive steps not directly involving employees. The steps are:
- Accept the challenge of doing discipline well
- Understand what you are disciplining
- Develop a positive attitude
- Know the law about discipline and discharge
- Put rules in place
- Train supervisors to discipline
- Hire the "right" people
- Make rules an important part of employee orientation
Accept the challenge
- Accept that discipline is both important and difficult.
- Avoid denying your role in discipline.
- Waste little time blaming yourself or employees for frustrations, difficulties and setbacks. Such blame leaves you no better off.
- Commit to making discipline one of your human resource management strengths.
Understand What You Are Disciplining
- Discipline the behavior not the person.
- Aim your discipline at what an employee has done or has not done.
- Avoid criticizing the employee's personal characteristics.
Note the difference between the disciplining of two employees who have been late to work the last three mornings:
"I hate when you are late. I don't understand why you can't figure out that you need an alarm clock that works. You are just plain lazy. You need to get here on time or face the consequences."
In the first case, the person is being attacked. In the second case, the person's coming late is being attacked.
Develop a Positive Attitude
Know the Law
Knowing the general provisions of the law about discipline and discharge is essential. The law is complex. Both statutory and common law emphasizes fairness and consistency.
Furthermore, competent legal advice is essential for establishing policies consistent with the law and dealing with particularly complex or unusual cases.
Put Rules in Place
Rules are essential. Leniency and trusting all employees to use good judgment should not be your approach to discipline. No matter how lenient your rules may be, no matter how often you give employees the benefit of the doubt and no matter how understanding you try to be, some employees will still try to take advantage of you.
Clear rules help curb abuses. Your statement of rules given to employees should include definitions of all vague terms in the rules.
As important as rules may be, an employer can go too far. Having a rule for anything that might come up is unrealistic. Avoid petty rules. Avoid rules aimed at one problem employee. Avoid rules put in place to get a problem employee fired. Pay attention to how much recordkeeping time a rule requires. Employees soon catch on to records that are a waste of time.
The rules should be accompanied with an explanation of how they will be enforced. Progressive discipline procedures, automatic probations and suspensions, reasons for immediate discharge, the reward system for following rules and the people who handle discipline should all be explained.
Supervisors need to know the rules and need to understand their role in enforcement of the rules. Supervisors need to be consistent. Employees should know that their supervisors all know the rules; are trained in how to discipline; know how to communicate; and all have the same commitment to fairness.
Hire problem people and you deal with problem people. Hire people who have a history of "succeeding" and you are likely to have employees who require little discipline.
Make Rules an Important Part of Employee Orientation
New employees' first few days on the job offer many teachable moments. Employers should take advantage of employees' open mindedness and their willingness to learn.
This is the time to explain the rules, describe how you discipline and emphasize that fairness guides your discipline.
Review your employee handbook or provide a thorough explanation of rules. Explain why the rules exist and how they make the business a better place to work for everyone.
Guideline Two - Use effective disciplinary techniques
The preventive actions will assure that most of your employees will require little more than their own self-discipline. No matter how effective your preventive actions may be, however, you will sometimes need to discipline.
You may follow the general guidelines in the hot stove rule, use progressive discipline, or even resort to an often short-sighted approach - firing.
Hot Stove Rule
The rule is actually an analogy based on a person touching a hot stove. The analogy provides four discipline basics that are applicable to many situations.
Think about deciding to touch or not touch a hot stove. How does the hot stove influence your decision? The hot stove rule suggests four ways in which the hot stove is like good discipline:
The stove provides a warning. One can feel the heat and know that touching will burn. (Employees need to know their employer's rules. The rules provide a warning.)
The stove is consistent. One need not guess whether the hot stove will burn; it always burns. (Employees need to know that the rules will be enforced every time they are broken. Discipline will not be a surprise.)
The stove burns immediately. No time is lost between the touch and the burn. (Employees should know that the discipline will come soon after each offense. Saving up discipline problems until the next performance review or until the supervisor is less busy means the discipline will be less effective.)
The stove is impersonal. The stove burns its owner in the same way it burns someone who encounters it by accident. (Good discipline treats each violator in the same way. The best employee, a family employee, and a problem employee receive the same fair treatment.)
The intent of discipline is to change what a problem employee is or is not doing. A problem that occurs over and over is more difficult to deal with than a single-event problem.
For example, it is more difficult to deal with an employee who regularly refuses to use safety equipment than to deal with an employee who received a speeding ticket with a business truck for the first time in five years.
Changing problem behaviors that are repeated is akin to eliminating bad habits.
Changing a bad habit is difficult. One warning from a supervisor is unlikely to have much impact. Progressive discipline is designed to stick with the employee until there is no longer a problem.
Progressive discipline incorporates four steps, each more severe than the previous step:
- Verbal warning
- Written reprimand
Communication is the key to progressive discipline.
The communication's primary objective is to help "save" a problem employee by letting him know there is a problem, what needs to be done to take care of the problem and by when it has to be done.
The secondary objective is to help build a defensible case for firing the problem employee.
Lack of communication sends an unintended message to the problem employee - your performance is okay even if you know that it really isn't. Ignoring a problem rarely brings a satisfactory solution. Lack of communication assures that there will be neither a commitment by the employee to improve nor a plan on how the employee intends to improve.
The communication associated with discipline can be emotional for both the employer and employee. The employer should get all the facts before the discipline, communicate in private, stay calm, document what was said and resume normal relations with the employee after the discipline.
The steps in progressive discipline and their timing vary from employer to employer. Most, however, follow a basic pattern.
To illustrate, an employer has a rule that all employees are to call in when they are going to have an unexpected absence from work. Not calling in four times in a 24 month period leads to automatic discharge. Each employee is allowed one freebee, an absence without calling in, every 24 months.
The first offense after the freebee triggers progressive discipline. Given this rule, progressive discipline might be applied as follows:
Discipline without punishment is an alternative to traditional progressive discipline. Progressive discipline without punishment makes change the employee's responsibility and coaching the employer's responsibility.
- The oral warning in the first step makes clear to the employee that he has a responsibility to change his behavior.
- The second step repeats the first step except the warning is in writing.
- The third step includes a one day decision-making leave with pay.
- The employee is asked to decide whether he or she chooses to remain with the business and follow the rules or resign.
- The fourth step is automatic discharge.
Certain offenses, sometimes called gross misconduct, are so serious that they result in immediate discharge without the employee being given a second or third chance to correct the behavior.
- knowingly endangering another employee,
- intoxication at work,
- possession of weapons,
- failure to report a criminal act by another employee,
- sexually harassing another employee,
- alcohol or drug use on the job,
- theft from the employer or a co-worker,
- false information on the application form
- unexcused absence from work for four consecutive days.
Immediate discharge from gross misconduct is fair because of the violations' severity.
Progressive discipline can lead to discharge. However, its objective is to "save" problem employees rather than get them fired. Firing is a complex issue requiring the employer's careful attention.
There are no winners in a firing! Firing admits failure. Who has failed? Certainly the fired employee has failed to meet the employer's expectations. Employees are often hesitant to accept blame.
They attribute blame with the following kinds of statements. "They were just looking for a reason to fire me." "They were misleading to get me to take the job." "I should never have taken this job." "I am getting blamed for something that is not my fault." "Other people continue to do what got me fired." "I deserved another chance."
When is a firing an admission of the employer's failure? It is easy to point a finger at the employer saying, "You hired, oriented, trained, supervised and disciplined so it has to be your fault."
Two questions rather than an accusation are best for the employer. "Did I do all that was reasonable to help this person succeed as my employee?" "When problems arose with this employee, did I do all that I could have to 'save' the employee and prevent the firing?"
Regardless of what could have been, a situation with an employee can deteriorate to the point that a firing is best. Now the employer's attention turns to how to do it fairly and minimize the negative impact on other employees' morale.
A firing raises several legal questions for both the employer and employee. Was the employment at-will? Was the firing a wrongful discharge? Was there just cause for the action? Was there due process? Was there a constructive discharge even though the employee resigned? These questions easily make the case for the help of a knowledgeable attorney.
A legal and defensible firing builds on actions taken long before the firing. The key is a paper trail designed for defense against a charge of wrongful discharge. The paper trail should have at least the following:
- Written job description
- Orientation and training designed to give each employee an excellent chance of success
- Regular written performance appraisals and feedback that paint an accurate picture of the employee's performance
- Plan for how the employee will improve performance
- Documentation of each step in progressive discipline
- Written warning to the employee before dismissal
- Written explanation of grounds for dismissal
Putting a paper trail in place is not enough. The actual firing needs to be planned as carefully as a job interview. The planning can be guided by the following questions.
- Is there a solid case for firing?
- Who will do it?
- Where will it be done?
- When will it be done?
- Who will be in the termination meeting?
- What will be said?
- What should be done immediately after the termination meeting?
Is there a solid case for the firing and is the paper trail in place? This question leads to a review of the facts. It also minimizes the chances that the employer is acting hastily or simply out of anger.
Who will do it? Usually the person who hired the person is the one to do the firing.
Where will it be done? The place chosen must guarantee privacy. The place should also avoid the fired person walking by former co-workers immediately after the dismissal meeting.
Who will be in the termination meeting? If possible, have a neutral third party there to observe and to be a calming influence should the discussion get out-of-hand.
What will be said? Careful planning and practice should guide what is said. In the meeting, being direct is absolutely necessary.
- Tell the person as clearly as possible that he or she is being terminated immediately.
- Make clear that the employee is to do no more work for the employer.
- Make it absolutely clear that the decision has already been made.
- Explain briefly and clearly the reason or reasons for the termination.
- Avoid vagueness, negotiation, apologizing, blame and arguing about whether the termination is justified.
- Explain how the employee will receive the final pay check, payout for unused vacation and sick leave, and severance pay.
- Do not ask the employee to return to the business to pick up the checks.
- Give the employee a chance to respond and to ask questions.
- Should an employee ask, grant the opportunity to resign rather than be fired.
If the employee asks for another chance, promises to do better in the future, begs for forgiveness or blames others, make clear that you respect his or her opinion but that you have carefully thought through your decision and it is final.
What should be done immediately after the termination meeting? The person doing the firing should write down what happened. The neutral third party should also write down what was observed. Co-workers and others who have regular contact with the fired employee need to be told as soon as possible.
Guideline Three - Reward supervisors and employees
One can argue that employees are expected to follow the rules; therefore, actually following the rules merits little or no special attention.
On the other hand, one can argue that employees make many choices about the rules. Choosing to follow them to the satisfaction of the employer benefits everyone in the business. This line of reasoning suggests that rewards for following the rules are a good idea, will be appreciated by employees and will contribute positively to the work environment.
Employees appreciate being recognized for what they do well. Employees notice when recognition is withheld. Recognition can be as simple as a word of appreciation from the employer or as complex as the choice of an employee for promotion.
The most common rewards are:
- attendance awards,
- safety awards,
- pay increases and bonuses.
An employer's understanding of what employees will appreciate can lead to many other rewards for self-discipline.
Supervisors should be rewarded for their leadership that minimizes the organization's problems with the people they supervise. The effective handling of a particularly difficult case may also merit a special reward.
Discipline is usually an unpleasant responsibility. It is important to be proactive rather than reactive. Waiting for problem employees to force action wastes the opportunity each employer has to create a positive work environment and to take advantage of employees' self-discipline.
The following story of a farm expanding and adding employees could be anywhere, any farm industry…even yours.
Kenneth A. McEwan
At first Jim avoided hired labor at all costs and he heavily invested into capital items such as automated feeding systems, liquid manure pits, and large field machinery.
However, the farm gradually reached a point where Jim and his wife Betty could no longer supply all the physical labor required by the farm and spend as much time as needed for managing things.
Jim hired his first full-time employee, Bill. Bill had been raised on a farm just north of Jim's home farm and turned out to be a very steady and loyal employee, requiring little supervision. With the addition of Bill to the farm came a whole new economies-of scale, and Jim further expanded.
The other three full-time employees (Mary, Tim, and Frank) held jobs primarily of moderate responsibility and their duties were mostly stockmanship, i.e., feeding, cleaning, moving livestock and some breeding. Mary, Tim, Frank, and Bill all got along well and Jim was very pleased with the quality of work each performed.
Frank occasionally stayed late to finishup whatever he was working on. He enjoyed farm work and believed in give and take.
Frank's lateness has not been a problem during his three month probation period, which had expired two months ago. Because of Frank's lateness, Mary and Tim were sometimes held up from doing their duties and this destroyed much of their normal work routine.
Frank's lateness was beginning to disturb Mary and Tim. Both Bill and Jim had heard complaints at coffee time. Further, it irked Jim that Frank was getting paid even while not on the job.
Bill did not figure it was his job to confront Frank since Jim usually looked after the disciplining of staff. In fact, Bill often felt left out since the employees thought of him as a bit of a spy having limited authority over them.
Bill was not involved in doing staff performance appraisals but his input was sought by Jim. Most of the staff thought of Jim as a great decision-maker but a poor people-manager.
Consider the following questions
- Who should confront Frank about his lateness? Bill or Jim?
- What might be the possible reasons for Frank's lateness.
- Are any of these reasons acceptable? If so, which ones?
- What steps should be taken to remedy the problem?
- Would flexible hours work in this farm situation?
- Are there other serious management problems besides Frank's lateness?
From The Instructor's Manual for Labor Management in Ag: Cultivating Personnel Productivity edited by Gregory Encina Billikopf,
University of California. Follow the link at
http://www.fairmeasures.com/wrongful.html Wrongful Termination
What is good cause for firing? What is proper procedure for firing or demoting? Includes information about unfair firing, layoff, constructive discharge, demotion, and denial of promotion.
Chapter 14, "Discipline & Termination" in Labor Management in Ag: Cultivating Personnel Productivity [http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7labor/001.htm] by Gregory Encina Billikopf of the University of California.
Employers' Handbook for Agriculture and Horticulture [http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/grc796] on the Agriculture, Food and Rural Development division, of the government of Alberta, Canada web site.
Chapter 7, "Progressive Discipline" The Hiring and Firing Question and Answer Book, by Paul Falcone, published by AMACOM, American Management Association, 2002.
Last modified February 23 2006 04:04 PM