Workers who commit safety infractions put themselves and others in danger and expose the company to liability under OHS laws and C-45. That’s why you need to enforce your company’s safety policies and practices. Progressive discipline is the key to effective enforcement. Last month, in Part 1 of this series, we explained how to apply the various stages of progressive discipline from warning to termination.
Let’s now focus on a critical element of the progressive discipline strategy: Documenting your actions. We’ll explain why documentation is so important. Next, we’ll tell you what documents to create. Finally, we’ll use a hypothetical case of a worker named Mike to show you how to create each of the documents in your paper trail.
The Importance of Documentation
When you discipline a worker, you should anticipate that your actions will be challenged in court or before an arbitrator. The odds of a challenge are especially great if the worker belongs to a union. To survive such challenges—and make discipline stick—you must be prepared to defend your decisions. To do that, you’ll need documentation that shows what you did and why.
Employers must keep detailed records like memos to files, written notices, notes summarizing conversations, etc., each time they apply progressive discipline. Without documentation, you’re a sitting duck in court or at arbitration. If you try to go back and create the documentation after the fact, you’ll also be in deep trouble. “You need to do it while the actions and memories are fresh,” explains a Toronto lawyer. “The longer you wait, the staler and less credible you become,” she adds.
The Story of Mike
What kind of documentation should you create? Let’s use a hypothetical case to illustrate. The “star” is Mike, a construction worker who has been with the company for five years and never been disciplined. But as our story begins, Mike is about to become a major headache.
Chapter 1: Mike Gets His First Warning
Mike’s supervisor spots Mike on a construction site without his hardhat on. The supervisor tells Mike to get his hardhat on. Mike complies immediately. The supervisor dismisses the incident as an honest mistake not deserving of discipline. Mike probably “just spaced out,” he figures.
Three days later, the supervisor once more sees Mike working without his hardhat. So he decides to issue a warning before things get out of hand. Here’s an example of an appropriate warning:
After giving Mike the warning, the supervisor should write a memo like this for the files.
Chapter 2: Mike Gets a Written Warning
Two weeks later, the supervisor spots Mike without his hardhat and demands an explanation. Mike gets defensive saying he took off his hardhat because it was making him “sweat too much.” The supervisor decides to give Mike a written warning like this:
Chapter 3: Mike Gets Suspended
Three weeks later, Mike gets caught without his hardhat on for the third time. The company decides to suspend him and sends him a letter like this:
Chapter 4: Mike Gets Fired
Alas, Mike’s story doesn’t have a happy ending. Two days after returning from his suspension, the supervisor spots Mike defiantly striding around the site without his hardhat on. A meeting is held and Mike is fired. The supervisor writes a memo like the following to summarize the results of the meeting: