Employee Discipline in Remote Workspace: 9 Easy Steps

employee discipline

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has shaken up our lives in ways we didn’t expect, changing our perceptions of life and work. While the world was unprepared for mass remote work, it has been a success for most companies.

However, despite all the positives that working remotely brings, managing employee discipline and performance are among the top challenges employers face in a post-pandemic world.

The thing is, employee issues will never go away, whether in the virtual workplace or in-office environment.

So, how do you discipline a remote worker without undermining them, being too harsh, or breaking the law?

We’ll show you exactly how in 9 simple steps!

How to Discipline Employees

Effective communication is fundamental to showing the right amount of trust and confidence. If you want to achieve the desired outcomes, it’s also advisable to get employees involved in solving their issues.

Below, we’ve listed several ways to implement employee discipline in the workplace without making matters worse. When done properly, these solutions will help maintain respect among employees and between them and management.

1. Set Up Workplace Rules of Conduct

For Employees

The first step is to establish a clear set of rules for employees. Your staff needs to know what’s expected of them and what guidelines to follow during company time. How else are they supposed to know the kinds of behaviors that are not permitted?

When formulating your employee manual, here are some areas to consider:

  • Dress code. It’s not uncommon for remote workers to work in their pajamas, or worse, to be donned in a shirt and tie, with just a short below. Be clear about the dress code, particularly what’s acceptable and what’s not.
  • Mobile devices. Mobile usage is the top form of distraction when working from home. While employees can use different apps to block distractions, it takes plenty of self-discipline. Let them know what you allow and what you don’t, particularly during working hours.
  • Behavior code. You must define how you want employees to behave within the organization. There should be guidelines on employee interaction, professional behavior, and proper language across all cultures. In other words, define acceptable and unacceptable conduct that will help maintain order and respect in the workplace.
  • Employee at-will. This technique is commonly applied by companies. It means the employer can terminate an employee for any reason, with or without notice. Likewise, an employee can tender his resignation with or without notice.
  • Work ethic and employee performance. Define the duties and responsibilities of each employee and address issues like tardiness and late submissions.
  • Serious matters like harassment, theft, violence, insubordination, or criminal behavior should warrant immediate termination.

When writing an employee code of conduct, make it as comprehensive and specific as possible. Keep the guidelines clear and simple. Avoid jargon to make it easier to understand for existing and new hires.

Most importantly, have them sign the form to show that they have read, understood, and accepted to work under the laid down stipulations.

For Managers

You must also define clear rules of conduct for managers to follow when disciplining employees. This is especially helpful in a company with many departments, where each manager has a different approach to managing workers.

Your best tactic is to ensure managers are on the same page. To do that:

  • Make sure managers uphold the company policies, failure to which they will face disciplinary actions themselves
  • Create a system that makes it easy to review the disciplinary write-ups
  • Check-in regularly with your employees to ensure fair and just treatment, as well as to learn about any discrepancies
  • Organize regular meetings with your managers to review the employee discipline policy
  • Arrange regular manager training to ensure consistency when employing employee discipline

2. Review Employee Discipline Policy

Every once in a while, an employee might fall out of the line and break a few rules. If it’s nothing serious, arrange a one-on-one meeting with the worker to explain what they have done wrong.

Remind them that signing the contract meant they understood what was expected of them in the workplace and they should adhere to the policy. If the mistake wasn’t intentional, clearing the air should resolve the issue. If the mistake is repeated, you can take any necessary actions, including suspension, demotion, or termination.

On another note, workplace laws change often. It’s, therefore, good practice for employers to review the employee handbook and adjust some rules.

3. Set Up Investigation Procedure

To come out as fair and reasonable, it’s crucial to investigate any allegations and review the evidence against the employee before reaching a verdict. Let’s say a supervisor or employee is accusing another employee of harassment or being under the influence. The management should promptly, fairly, and thoroughly investigate the claims to determine all the facts and circumstances.

To make the process seamless, you’ll need to establish a protocol. Appoint people to conduct the investigation and determine the process and timeline to be followed. Additionally, let everyone on the team know that an investigation is being carried out to encourage transparency.

4. Decide the Correctional Methods to Use

To apply effective discipline in the workplace, you must decide the best approach to utilize before jumping into the disciplinary procedures. The discipline method you choose will vary depending on factors like the type of business, and the circumstances and seriousness of the offense.

Just be sure the solutions are logical and achievable. You also want to use a discipline method that will bring positive results.

5. Progressive Action Policy

You can opt to apply progressive discipline where you use gradual steps to deal with problems at work. The main goal is to “course-correct” and fix minor issues before they become big problems.

A progressive discipline process entails:

  • Giving notice or informing the employee that his job performance is below par and needs to improve
  • Giving the employee opportunities to improve his job performance
  • Letting him know the next course of action if there’s no improvement

Depending on the type of offense, employers may skip all the levels in-between and start at the highest step, which is termination.

  • Promoting open communication between a supervisor/manager and the employee
  • Improving employee performance and productivity
  • Enabling a consistent, objective, and fair disciplinary procedure
  • Increasing employee retention by resolving issues
  • Providing the necessary documentation should termination be looming

It can be challenging to formulate an effective progressive discipline process. Here is a 5-step approach you can try:


Where it’s a first-time offense and the infraction is minor, the employer can hold a face-to-face discussion with the employee and engage in counseling. This involves informing the staff member of the problem and advising them on expected conduct.

It’s also letting them know that if the issue arises again in the future, it will attract a more severe discipline.

An example of counseling is if a team member is late. You could tell them, “You were late for the meeting. Don’t let it happen again.”

Counseling is different from a verbal warning since it acts as a pre-emptive measure before the issue blows out of proportion.

Verbal Warning

Where counseling is inadequate, a verbal warning may be appropriate. The warning involves informing the employee of the problem that needs to be corrected and what needs to be done. It also involves warnings that further violations will result in severe discipline.

Even when issuing verbal warnings, the supervisor or manager should share written documentation with the employee. This will prove useful in the event the issue is repeated or for legal purposes.

Written Warning

If the problem persists, even after counseling and several verbal warnings, a written warning is issued. The document details the problem and the consequences of a repeat offense.

You may wish to include a second warning as part of the progressive discipline program. You’ll determine what actions to take, such as demotion or suspension, if the problem continues.

Important note: Both the verbal and written warnings should be well documented with copies attached to the employee’s personnel file. Doing so ensures that you have supporting documentation in case the disciplinary action leads to termination or legal action.

Where possible, record verbal warnings and “counseling” sessions to capture all the steps involved in the disciplinary procedure.

Possible Next Courses of Action

Depending on the nature of your business and that of the disciplinary issue, you may implement one of the following appropriate courses of action:

  • Demotion. You can demote the worker to a level that allows them to improve performance.
  • Suspension and improvement plan. This involves asking the employee to vacate the office and develop an action improvement plan (AIP) or progressive improvement plan (PIP). It’s giving the team member a final chance to reflect on committed mistakes and decide if they want to make the effort to improve. If the individual fails or refuses to create an AIP or PIP, take steps to terminate their employment.
  • Transfer. Employers may consider transferring the employee to a different branch.
  • Reassignment. The employee is forced to take retraining sessions to improve his behavior.

6. Don’t Discriminate

It’s not uncommon for managers to let bad behavior slide, especially if the perpetrator happens to be the most productive employee. For instance, he may be the lead anchor in your media house or has the highest number of clients.

They fear that letting such a hardworking individual go will reduce the overall productivity or performance of the organization.

Unfortunately, doing so sets a bad example for all other employees. If you fire one person and not the other, you may find yourself in court for discrimination and unfair termination. Moreover, remember that unfair treatment in the workplace is a type of discrimination that is prohibited by the laws enforced by the EEOC.

7. Give Employees a Chance to Appeal

For your disciplinary policies and procedures to be all-inclusive, allow your remote workers to appeal decisions. Showing due diligence and giving them the space to air out their concerns about why they don’t agree illustrates a fair and just process.

Additionally, by hearing their side of the story, you’ll better understand if they truly deserve the disciplinary action or not. There are likely valid reasons or certain circumstances the employee behaved that way.

On the other hand, the supervisor or manager could be wrong. Unfortunately, it appears that only 51 percent of supervisors have the humility to admit mistakes. The Dale

Carnegie Global Leadership Study also reveals that only 60 percent of supervisors are willing to truly listen to their employees.

All we are saying is try to be open to their points of view, even if you’ve already made up your mind on the course of action to take. It helps to make employees feel they can defend themselves.

8. Do it with Confidentiality

Whenever you’re dealing with accountability and disciplinary issues with your remote employees, do so in private. Nothing’s as embarrassing as being publicly shamed in front of coworkers.

Avoid raising the issue during a meeting involving all team members. Instead, carry out the discussions in private. Additionally, find a good time to have ‘The chat’. Don’t interrupt an employee in the middle of tasks since it will leave them disoriented.

9. Finish the Disciplinary Process on a Positive Note

While the employee might have done wrong and is evidently guilty of the violation, avoid ending the session on a negative note. Furthermore, avoid scare tactics. Not only does it leave a bitter taste in the person’s mouth, but it may also kill their morale to work for you.

If they have been doing a great job, let them know you’re aware of the excellent work they do. For example, you can use a time tracking app like Traqq to generate reports that show data about the individual’s activity levels and the number of hours they put in.

Your intention is to show them how valuable they are to the company, so they can put the effort to change for the better. Traqq is one of the best time tracking and employee monitoring software for small and big teams. It’s among the few that offer ethical employee monitoring, so teams don’t feel they are being spied on. This technique boosts trust, especially when employees know screenshots are blurred by default, and they can delete any screenshots they don’t want to appear on their timelines.

Disciplinary Issues That May Arise When Working from Home

When COVID-19 struck, many employers did not envision that remote working would be a permanent situation. Turns out, remote work is now the new reality, with Amazon, Cisco, and PWC being the latest to join the list of companies going remote permanently.

It hasn’t been an easy shift. At first, most organizations were not ready and had to quickly change their working practices.

Employees faced different kinds of pressures apart from their normal workload. Distractions were rife and a lack of work shutdown ritual led to burnouts.

That’s not all. The lack of oversight from supervisors, managers, or employers gave rise to disciplinary issues like:

  • Failure to attend online meetings
  • Being unreachable
  • Producing poor quality work
  • Engaging in domestic tasks instead of working
  • Sending inappropriate messages to colleagues
  • Taking long to respond to calls or emails
  • Breaching company or client confidentiality

Employers had to devise new ways to deal with disciplinary issues in the remote workplace.

Carrying out disciplinary actions can be challenging in a remote workplace. However, as this whitepaper from SHRM shows, there are ways to handle issues affecting remote employees.

Communicating clearly is one key point to consider. It’s always easier to have conversations in person to enable the concerned parties to read body language and hear the different tones of voice. Fortunately, video calls are the closest we have to face-to-face communication.

Closing Thoughts

As an employer or manager, it’s important not to view employee discipline as a form of punishment. Try to see it as an opportunity to correct wrongdoing, make known the accepted and unaccepted behaviors, and help employees grow.Ultimately, you want to create a favorable working environment where all employees feel equal and governed by the same rules. Most importantly, you must approach workplace discipline carefully to avoid any legal issues that may arise.

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