Disciplinary action is usually the last step of the investigation process. The investigation may have concluded that corrective action is the best solution to deal with those involved in the process. Disciplinary action is the approach employers take to address the issue that resulted in the investigation. It may be used as a way to discourage other employees from repeating the same misconduct or as a way of changing an individual’s mindset. Disciplinary action is aimed at the root cause of the incident rather than the issue on the surface. By understanding why an issue occurred, a more effective solution can be chosen.

What requires disciplinary action?

Disciplinary action is usually the result of misconduct such as theft, discrimination, fraud or sexual harassment. These will determine the nature of the disciplinary action and how severe it may be. When making a decision on how to deal with a problem, the business must explain which solution they chose and why. This will prevent cases of employees feeling unfairly treated as the company will be able to explain its reasoning.

Even though disciplinary action follows after an investigation, it may follow other mistakes that employees make that are not related to misconduct. It may be addressing issues with performance or behaviour. If an employee is consistently not meeting their goals and they receive negative feedback from customers, then corrective action may need to be taken. It could also cover incidents like lateness and non-compliance with policies. 

Making an attempt to fix a problem shows customers and employees that the business values its products and services as well as the work environment.

How to approach disciplinary action

Before disciplinary action is chosen as the right step, a written or oral warning should be given to an employee. If an investigation has concluded that disciplinary action needs to be implemented, then the company should carefully consider what the best course of action is. The most common approaches include:

  • Training
  • Reduction in pay
  • Demotion
  • Suspension
  • Dismissal


The training program employees will need to complete relies heavily on the issue they are facing. Were they part of misconduct or are they failing to meet performance standards? If the employee showed minor signs of discriminatory behaviour then they may need to complete an inclusive training program that informs them of the impact of their actions. It should explain how their actions affect those around them and how they could hurt their colleagues and result in a toxic work environment.

If the disciplinary action relates to poor performance reviews, then it may be necessary for employees to complete work-related training or receive mental health counselling. When deciding on the right disciplinary action, employers need to take into account the wellbeing of their employees. It may be possible that employees are facing issues with work tasks and they feel overwhelmed, therefore they are not able to perform their best. Taking a harsh approach could backfire as staff feel punished for something they cannot control.

Employers should assess each case carefully and decide whether the issue is something related to a malicious mindset or the result of poor mental health. As such, training is not really a ‘disciplinary’ action so much as a corrective action, as it should not be seen as a punishment but as a chance to improve. However, it is often the first, ‘lightest’ step in a disciplinary process – with harsher actions such as those below being taken if there is no improvement.

Reduction in pay

A pay reduction is an option after many negative performance reviews. If an employee does not make an effort to improve or listen to feedback provided to them, then a pay reduction may be necessary. This approach is sometimes criticised as some managers and employees feel like it does not address the root cause of the problem. As the employee continues to work for the company, it only feels like a punishment rather than guiding them towards a better solution. It may demoralise the employee and lead to worse performance rather than a positive change.

Companies usually choose this option to save money and cut the costs associated with finding a replacement and training a new individual. The business usually prefers to keep the employee as making someone familiar with the position and the company may be too expensive or take too much time. The pay reduction must not be below the minimum wage.

disciplinary action


Taking away power and privileges could result in a better overall workplace environment for employees to work in. A drop in rank will include a reduction in pay and it is an example of disciplinary action usually used for managers, supervisors or higher-up employees. Employees might have been found to abuse their position of power and use it wrongfully or not meet their job expectations. For instance, a manager may fail to manage their team and this could result in lost deadlines and tight schedules. In this case, the manager may need to step down for a new and more experienced worker to take over.


If the employer does not think that a pay reduction or a demotion is appropriate, then a suspension is the final warning before an employee is dismissed. This option may be chosen for different incidents of varying severity. There may be conditions to the suspension that the employee will need to meet before being allowed to return. Suspensions may also be given during the investigation before a conclusion is reached. In some cases, the employee may be suspended temporarily before being reassigned to a different position with a different team. This will give the worker a fresh start and give them a second chance if the incident was not severe.  


Dismissal is usually used as a last resort or when the incident that requires disciplinary action is very severe. It could be decided that the presence of the employee in the workplace could lead to a less productive environment filled with microaggressions. Dismissal is chosen when all other options are not deemed adequate to deal with the issue. It might not be possible for the employee to change their behaviour or undo the damage done to another staff member.

Dismissal should be treated as a sensitive matter as it could traumatise the individual if it turns out to be unfair. It could cause them financial trouble and could cause retaliation and legal action against the company. 

While firing an employee may be the best possible decision, it can lead to increased costs as a result of looking for and hiring a new individual. The company will need to go through the induction process again and give time for the new person to get used to their role.

Can disciplinary action be prevented?

Disciplinary action may not be needed if an employee abides by the policies and procedures and performs the duties of their job description to an adequate standard. 

To discourage misconduct, a zero-tolerance policy will need to be implemented and supported by strong consequences for non-compliance. While unethical behaviour must be discouraged, ethical behaviour should be incentivised if possible. Employees should be encouraged to speak up against misconduct and the policies and procedures must be written in a way that is easy for employees to understand and follow them.

If the organisation decides to use monitoring, such as CCTV or software, then employees should be made aware of this as it will decrease the likelihood of misconduct. Workers will not feel confident that they will not get caught and are less likely to commit illegal activities.

To discourage poor performance, employers might choose to show employees how they reward high performers. Promotion, bonuses and extra benefits are a nice way to thank employees for their hard work and show the workplace that everyone is valued and employers actually pay attention. Mental health plans that are aimed at helping employers and well-being support are essential in assisting employees to get through hard times or raise concerns that they may have. Sometimes monetary rewards may not be what an individual needs to get through a rough time in their life.

In our own experience at Polonious, we have always provided employees with flexibility in their working arrangements, and compassion around personal or family crises that may not strictly count as sick leave. Being a small business, it’s always been important to us to know our staff as people and not just as ‘human resources’. This has resulted in a better working environment for everyone, and a tight knit team of committed staff who regularly go the extra mile.

Managers should check in with employees frequently, perform performance reviews regularly and talk with employees to establish what issues they might have. There might be an underlying problem that prevents employees from meeting their goals. It is important to not jump to the conclusion that an employee is lazy as it is not productive and will not lead to effective solutions.

Keep in mind

It is wise to talk to the company’s HR team and seek legal counsel before making a decision. This will ensure that the final disciplinary action complies with relevant laws and regulations and leaves little room for legal action against the company. If an approach worked for one employee it is not guaranteed that it will work for every individual. Open and clear communication and fostering an environment of ethical behaviour can lead to better outcomes and a more efficient workplace.

Employers should focus on conducting a successful workplace investigation to ensure that the disciplinary action will address the issue they are facing. Our clients choose Polonious because we help them undertake a faster and more effective investigation. When using our system, our customers see an up to 25% decrease in administration costs and lower administrative time by over 20%. We comply with strict standards to ensure that our clients achieve a successful investigation that will lead to beneficial changes and constructive feedback. If you want to learn more about how we can help you, request a demo and we will get back to you!