An overview of discipline

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As an employer, you are responsible for training, mentoring, and setting a good example for everyone on your team. Discipline can become necessary when you need to correct an individual employee and reinforce your expectations and company standards. 

Remember: discipline isn’t about punishment it’s about creating a workplace that is safe and welcoming. 

Examples where discipline is warranted include:

  • Attendance problems where the employee does not have a reasonable excuse for their absence.
  • Sub-standard performance such as missing deadlines or making errors.
  • Behaviours that cause loss or injury, including theft, dishonesty, disclosing confidential information, inappropriate conduct towards coworkers or management, or violating company policies.

Culpable vs. non-culpable behaviour

Culpable means the individual is responsible for something that happened. The employee knows what is expected, is capable of meeting the expectations, but chooses not to do so. Discipline is only appropriate for culpable misconduct.

Non-culpable issues are actions or behaviours that are not the fault of the individual. The employee knows what is expected but is not capable of meeting the expectations. Non-culpable misconduct requires a non-disciplinary response.

It’s important to ask yourself, is this a person problem or a process problem? In other words, is the employee willfully not performing their duties, or are they being prevented from performing their duties due to a lack of training or broken equipment, for example?

Best Practices

Communication is key: If you don’t clearly state your expectations, you can’t discipline an employee for not meeting them. 

Don’t delay: Take action right away. Dealing with problems promptly will deter employees from forming bad habits or from other staff observing that you are condoning bad behaviour. 

Check the facts: It’s important to investigate. Check with the employee, supervisor, and any witnesses to validate with evidence. You need correct facts to conclude if the situation warrants discipline.

Be consistent: Apply uniform discipline across the team; do not reprimand one employee and ignore the same action by another employee. Ignoring matters that deserve discipline or treating some employees differently than others can lower employee morale. Select disciplinary action that matches the severity of the issue.

Understand your role: Was there anything you could have done to prevent the matter from happening in the first place? For example, are you missing a company policy on the issue, did the employee receive proper training and supervision, and are you following the disciplinary steps set in your employee handbook?

Use employee performance evaluations: these can be a proactive measure, allowing you to address performance concerns before they become a matter for discipline. CFIB members can access an Employee Performance Evaluation Form and Policy in the Member Portal

There are no shortcuts in discipline. Having employees means you will very likely have to apply discipline with someone at some point in time. It is a process and requires time, effort, and commitment. 

What to learn more about making disciplinary decisions? Our Savings Program Partner, Vubiz, offers an Effective Workplace Discipline course which offers practical advice on effective workplace discipline. 

CFIB members can contact our team of Advisors with questions on discipline or any other business matter by calling 1-833-568-2342 or e-mailing

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