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Small business owners wear many hats and one of them is the task of managing employees. Delivering verbal warnings and employee discipline can be uncomfortable but owners inevitably must timely address issues as they arise. Immediate termination may be proper with serious misconduct such as theft and physical violence.

In most cases of behavioral or performance problems the small business owner should take the following “Progressive Discipline” steps:

  1. Verbal Warnings
  2. Written Warning
  3. Termination as a last step

Two principles apply when it becomes necessary to discipline an employee:

FIRST: Clearly Inform Employee the Reason for Dissatisfaction

It can be very difficult to advise an employee that you have concerns with his or her behavior or performance. Remember discipline should not be a SURPRISE to the employee. Communicate with honesty, frankness, and precision about the reasons of your dissatisfaction. Be clear about your future expectations for the employee. Vagueness and generalities or glossing over the situation are likely to leave the employee uneasy and you probably would not see any improvement.

SECOND: Give the Employee Opportunity to Correct the Problem

Except in limited circumstances, the employee should be given the opportunity to correct the problem. Keep in mind that it’s your responsibility to explain to the employee:

  • The areas in which he or she is expected to improve;
  • Make suggestions about how to improve;
  • Allow time for the employee to make improvements.

Always prepare yourself for meetings with employees by reviewing policies, your handbook, employee file, etc.   Most importantly, document a summary of the discussion. Remember, if the employee is surprised by the verbal warning, then you have done something wrong. Contact a small business attorney for help with employee warnings.