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November 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Employee Discipline: Using Counseling Memos Correctly

Failure to document employee conduct and disciplinary issues can leave a manager in more trouble than the employee. Here are steps to circumvent such a scenario through properly written and executed counseling memos.

by Michael P. Dallessandro


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Many years ago, when I took my first paramedic training program, the instructor offered words of wisdom regarding documentation of patient care. He said, "If you don't write it down, it didn't happen."

For example, if you performed CPR on a patient who later died, but didn’t note the CPR on the proper form, a lawyer representing that person’s family may contend you didn’t do CPR at all, which could be difficult to disprove. The point that I am making is that documentation is vital in any matter that may become contentious down the road.

Your word or theirs
Has the following scenario happened to you? One of your staff members is chronically late. Numerous times you have spoken to him or her about the importance of arriving at work on time to conduct a proper pre-trip inspection and arrive at children’s bus stops on time, all to no avail.

You finally run out of options and want to refer the person to the district office for disciplinary action, such as suspension. You meet with your supervisors, your tardy employee and union representatives, only to be smacked down because the employee claims to have never been warned about being tardy. Unfortunately, you have nothing other than your word and the look of frustration on your face to serve as proof that you have met with the employee Ñ many times. At this point, without any written documentation, the employee will probably walk away with only a slap on the wrist. If this sounds familiar to you, then understanding how to write and use a counseling memo is something you should know.

Counseling vs. written warnings
Many sections of civil service law and union contracts spell out exactly how oral and written warnings can be used when dealing with employees. The counseling memo should not be confused with a written warning, although if you read between the lines, the memo can lead to more definitive action in accordance with collective bargaining agreements and laws. The primary purpose of the counseling memo is to document that you and the employee in question have spoken about a specific behavioral, procedural or safety matter.

To take things a bit further, the counseling memo can also reinforce policy or best practices so the waters are not so muddy.

Meet in person
When an issue arises that you feel is important enough to mention to the employee, you should arrange to speak with the person in your office or at another appropriate location. Airing concerns in public that could become disciplinary or sitting in the employee break room to discuss personnel matters is a poor practice. The mood should always be friendly and positive. Remember: This is not personal. You are simply restating policy or procedures for the employee.

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