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Avoiding a Hostile Workplace: Fairness in Employee Discipline

Apr 9, 2008
The environment of your workplace is vital to employee satisfaction, reduction of turnover, and productivity. It is also vital to the legal stability of your business.

A hostile work environment can be the basis for many types of employee complaints and causes of legal action. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lists as a basis for employee complaints the existence of a "hostile work environment." The creation or continuation of a hostile workplace environment can be the beginning of a legal quagmire of lawsuits, wrongful termination suits, and discrimination complaints. The atmosphere of a harsh and antagonistic workplace can be a death sentence for your business.

One of the biggest factors affecting hostility in the workplace is inequity and selective discipline. Employees frequently site favoritism and unfairness as their reasons for discomfort and intimidation at work. It can also be the basis for proving a pattern of discrimination in your workplace.

It is essential for all managers to apply coaching and discipline in an equitable fashion. Once employee standards are established, infractions of these standards must be applied fairly and without bias. Failure to hold workers accountable to employee standards of conduct and behavior in a consistent manner will lead to accusations of bias and favoritism. The consequences of such accusations are far reaching and will affect management credibility at all levels of your organization.

Establishing a written and clear code of employee conduct is only the first step in good human resource management. This written policy is only as good as the enforcement of its standards. Just as your personnel policies were written in a neutral and impartial manner so must be the enforcement of these policies.

Infractions and violations of personnel policies should be dealt with in an established way. Degrees of discipline such as verbal warnings and written warnings should be contained in your protocols and associated time frames should be attached. Follow these protocols without regard to the personalities involved. Circumstances that mitigate infractions can and should be documented as part of this process.

There may be factors that make one breach of conduct different or less severe than another and there should be a venue for written comments in discipline documentation. But these mitigating circumstances should not preclude discipline. You may know and understand why someone broke the rules and may indeed find these factors understandable but the perception of favoritism must be avoided at all costs. It may mean writing up an employee for something you feel was justified but to just dismiss the violation fails to take into account the perceptions of other employees and the effectiveness of your personnel policy.

Take the time to communicate your views and feelings about the infraction and document them properly. This is an exercise in fairness and consideration that you owe your employees. It can turn discipline into constructive coaching.

The perception of employees is the key to creating a work environment that is neutral to the personalities and personal preferences involved. Discrimination occurs when your employees perceive that they are being treated differently than others. When the tardiness of one worker is excused because they have to take their child to day care but the tardiness of another worker without such a valid reason is cited with warnings can cause the perception of unfairness.

In your warning to the employee with day care issues you can mention your empathy with working parents and suggest flextime options or carpooling as constructive suggestions but the employee's failure to adhere to work rules must be documented. Other employees may not know about their coworkers obligations and be angry when they are written up for tardiness and others are not. Hostility can be avoided by consistent and equitable enforcement of work rules.

Avoiding the impression of unfairness can go a long way to maintaining an impartial workplace, the satisfaction of employees, and the feeling that everyone is being treated in the same way. It also takes the perception of bias out of the employee relations equation. Though it means hard choices it can mean the difference between a hostile and hospitable work environment.
About the Author
Melissa Vokoun is a successful Business Advisor, Coach and Trainer. To learn more about the services available, please visit the website at: http://www.coachingqueen.com or call 847-392-6886.
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