The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

3 Myths About Faculty and Staff Discipline

We’ve all worked with a bad apple at one time or another. Maybe you still do. You know the one … the faculty member who seems to get away with everything, the staff member who says whatever they want whenever they want, the coworker who is abrasive and uncooperative. As an HR professional, you want to take disciplinary action, but first you must gather evidence to support your claim and follow appropriate legal guidelines.

Tracey Pearson, director of employee and labor relations, and Rebecca Peterson, assistant director for faculty relations in human resources, both from Florida State University, shared several myths about faculty and staff discipline in their session at the CUPA-HR annual conference last month, and explored what HR can and can’t do when dealing with inappropriate behavior, unmet performance expectations and termination.

Myth #1: As long as an employee is performing his or her job well, there is nothing I can do about their bad behavior.

Inappropriate behaviors include angry outbursts, refusal to work or communicate with others, inappropriate comments, poor attendance and lack of engagement. Pearson and Peterson suggest bringing performance or behavioral problems to the employee’s attention in a timely manner, discussing with the employee ways the problem can be corrected or resolved, and reviewing with the employee his or her position description and expected performance standards.

Myth #2: Employees should already know what my standards and expectations are. If they don’t meet these standards, I can discipline them.

Usually the more severe the behavior, performance deficiencies or impact, the more severe the penalty. However, before making the decision to discipline, gather the facts. What happened? Who was involved? Were there witnesses? It’s also important to get the employee’s response. Once this is done, ask yourself, “Have I set clear expectations?” “Have I given honest and open feedback?” “If this is a performance issue, has the employee received adequate training?” Reflecting on these questions will help you decide on next steps.

Myth #3: “At-will” employees can be terminated at any time for any reason.

Generally, at-will employees can be terminated for any reason and without warning. However, your reason for termination:

  • must be legal and nondiscriminatory;
  • cannot appear to be retaliatory;
  • cannot be based on race, religion, gender, sex or any other protected status;
  • cannot be in response to the employee engaging in a protected activity; and
  • must abide by the terms of the employee’s employment contract.

Use these guidelines to develop a consistent disciplinary process that will ensure fair treatment of each employee.