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  1. Why is it so hard, and takes so long to discipline an employee?
  2. What is the role of the Personnel Director and the General Manager in discipline?
  3. Sounds like the supervisor and even the division manager play little or no roles in the discipline process. Is this true?
  4. Earlier answers to questions refer to “formal discipline.” What is formal discipline?
  5. Must all discipline cases be handled in a “progressive” manner?
  6. I have looked at the discipline guidelines in Personnel Directive No. 5, and noticed that discipline usually falls within a range. How do we decide which disciplinary action within the range is appropriate?
  7. What are “mitigating circumstances?”
  8. What are “exacerbating circumstances?”
  9. I need to give an employee time off without pay for not completing her work on time. Where do I start?
  10. What happens after the General Manager approves formal discipline?
  11. What can be appealed to the Civil Service Commission, and what cannot?
  12. Can exempt, probationary or trainee employees file grievances over discipline?
  13. Under Civil Service, how is an appeal to discipline handled?
  14. If an employee appeals his suspension or discharge – or grieves it – do we have to hold off on serving the suspension until the Civil Service Commission or arbitrator has ruled?
  15. What are the steps involved with formal discipline of an employee? First, the supervisor and division manager gather and evaluate evidence that would support taking formal discipline.
  16. Must the supervisor serve the discipline/discharge document on the employee? Doesn’t that put the supervisor in an awkward or even unsafe situation?
  17. For a suspension, who decides on the days to be served? Can the days be split up among payroll periods or while the employee is already off duty (IOD, sick, or on unpaid leave)?
  18. Is there some special protocol in processing the paperwork after serving the “Notice” of discipline/discharge on the employee?
  19. I need to meet with an employee as part of my investigation into theft of tools. The employee may or may not be subject to discipline after I conclude my investigation. When I ask the employee to meet with me she says she wants a union representative with her. Must I accommodate the request for representation?
  20. I called an employee into my office to counsel him. He said that I could not counsel him until he has his union there to represent him. Must I wait for the representative to be present before I can counsel or serve notice of discipline on an employee?
  21. Are employees allowed time, with pay, to meet with their representatives to prepare for a disciplinary meeting (investigation or due process)?
  22. Are employees entitled to time, with pay, to attend a Skelly meeting (scheduled by Personnel Services)?
  23. Can an employee attend a Civil Service Commission or arbitration hearing while on the clock (with pay)?
  24. What if the hearing is scheduled when the employee is not scheduled to work? Shall I change the employee's work schedule or allow him to work overtime to attend his hearing?
  25. One of the early questions in this section on discipline referred to a suspension “with pay” and Disciplinary Pay Status. What is that?
  26. I have heard another disciplinary term that needs explanation. What is a “Last Chance Agreement?”

Why is it so hard, and takes so long to discipline an employee?
Discipline is important enough to do it right.

Before any discipline is recommended to the General Manager there must be a thorough investigation. There must be sufficient compelling evidence to justify the recommended discipline. We must also make sure that these three key requirements are met:

  • Just cause. There must be plenty of evidence to support disciplinary action, and we must be able to prove it to the General Manager, Civil Service Commission or an arbitrator.
  • Progressive Discipline. The disciplinary action must be only as severe as necessary to correct a performance or behavior problem – not to punish. Progressive discipline starts with counseling and written reprimands, and graduates to suspensions and ultimately discharge.
  • Due Process (Skelly). Employees are entitled to comment on recommended suspensions or discharge before the General Manager makes his final decision.

The requirements above apply to all employees whether civil service, probationary, exempt, or trainee status.

What is the role of the Personnel Director and the General Manager in discipline?
Taking it in reverse, the General Manager is the “appointing authority” under the Charter, and makes the final decision on formal discipline, subject to appeal by the employee to the Civil Service Commission or a grievance.

The Personnel Director advises the General Manager on formal discipline based on a thorough investigation of the facts, discipline guidelines and consistency department-wide, and due process (opportunity for employee to respond to the evidence).

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Sounds like the supervisor and even the division manager play little or no roles in the discipline process. Is this true?
No, this is wrong!

The supervisor and division manager (line management) must first identify the need for discipline, document, and decide the appropriate level of corrective action (counselling, written reprimand, Notice to Correct Deficiencies, or formal discipline).

The Personnel Director only gets involved if the division manager wants the General Manager to approve formal disciplinary action. The Personnel Director and General Manager rely on the documentation and previous efforts by the supervisor to correct the problem.

Earlier answers to questions refer to “formal discipline.” What is formal discipline?
Our department policy and practice is to consider “formal discipline” as a suspension without pay, a suspension with pay (Disciplinary Pay Status), or a discharge. Formal discipline requires the approval of the General Manager.

Counseling, written reprimands, and Notices to Correct are not considered, in General Services, as formal discipline and do not require the General Manager’s approval.

Must all discipline cases be handled in a “progressive” manner?
Not all. Remember this: Discipline should lead to improvement, and should be only as severe or harsh as required to cause improvement. If counseling has not led to improvement, maybe a written reprimand or Notice to Correct should be next.

In some situations we must suspend the employee as the first step to correcting inappropriate behavior (such as threatening or intimidating behavior). Still other cases may lead to discharge for the first offense (such as theft, assault or flagrant insubordination).

I have looked at the discipline guidelines in Personnel Directive No. 5, and noticed that discipline usually falls within a range. How do we decide which disciplinary action within the range is appropriate?
This is a good question since we know that the discipline guidelines give very wide discretion – sometimes ranging all the way from counseling to discharge.

The reason for this is that management needs to consider other “circumstances” in arriving at the final decision on discipline. These other circumstances are either “mitigating” or “exacerbating”.

What are “mitigating circumstances?”
Factors that would tend to lessen the disciplinary action.

Examples of mitigating circumstances are a long work history with good performance evaluations, admitting to being wrong and accepting responsibility for actions, and clear evidence of taking appropriate steps to correct the problem.

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What are “exacerbating circumstances?”
The opposite of mitigating circumstances. Also called aggravating circumstances, exacerbating circumstances are conditions or events that worsen the offense, and would lead to a penalty at the higher end of the discipline guideline.

For example, the employee has been disciplined in the past and has shown little improvement. Or, if the employee has a short time working for GSD. Maybe the employee blames others (supervisors) for his improper behavior.

I need to give an employee time off without pay for not completing her work on time. Where do I start?
Start with your supervisor. Discuss the situation and what possible courses of action can be taken.

If management is comfortable that everything except discipline has been done to improve your employee’s performance (training, tools, coaching, counseling, evaluations, and written reprimand) without success, your division manager may want to pursue formal discipline.

If your division manager believes that formal discipline is warranted, he or she should request an investigation by Personnel Services. If the investigation supports formal discipline, the Personnel Director will recommend discipline to the General Manager.

What happens after the General Manager approves formal discipline?
You are responsible for serving notice on the employee. The notice, which is signed by the General Manager, tells the employee what disciplinary action will be taken, the effective date of the action, and (if a suspension) the dates of the suspension.

The notice also tells the employee why he is being disciplined/discharged, and if he can appeal the action to the Civil Service Commission.

What can be appealed to the Civil Service Commission, and what cannot?
For employees not on probation, or not in a trainee or exempt status, discharges and suspensions of six working days or more can be appealed to the Civil Service Commission.

Suspensions for less than six working days, Notices to Correct or counseling cannot be appealed to the Civil Service Commission. They may, however, be grieved and ultimately submitted to an arbitrator for a final and binding decision.

Can exempt, probationary or trainee employees file grievances over discipline?
There is some confusion in the City about this question. The best advice is to coordinate any grievances from exempt, probationary or trainee employees with your personnel liaison analyst. Do not assume they do have the right to grieve a disciplinary action.

Under Civil Service, how is an appeal to discipline handled?
The Commission assigns a neutral hearing officer to hear arguments from the employee and the department (represented by personnel services staff). The hearing officer recommends to the Commission to support or not support the charges and penalties (discipline). The Commission will either overturn the discipline action, approve it, or ask the department to consider a different penalty.

If an employee appeals his suspension or discharge – or grieves it – do we have to hold off on serving the suspension until the Civil Service Commission or arbitrator has ruled?
No. We discipline or discharge the employee. If the employee is successful in the appeal/grievance, we may have to modify the discipline/discharge after served.

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What are the steps involved with formal discipline of an employee?
First, the supervisor and division manager gather and evaluate evidence that would support taking formal discipline.

Second, the division manager sends a request to the Personnel Director for an investigation into possible formal discipline. If the division manager does not believe that formal discipline is needed, she can proceed with informal discipline (counseling or Notice to Correct Deficiencies).

Third, a personnel analyst will conduct an investigation and prepare a report to the Personnel Director recommending appropriate formal discipline, discharge, or that the case be referred back to the division manager for informal discipline or no action.

Fourth, the employee will be given a copy of the report and all evidence. The Personnel Director will allow the employee and his representative an opportunity to provide information that may influence the Personnel Director’s recommendation to the General Manager (Skelly).

Fifth, the Personnel Director will either recommend formal discipline/discharge to the General Manager (final approval), or refer the case back to the division manager for appropriate informal action.

Sixth, if the General Manager approves formal discipline, he will sign a “Notice” and return the file to the Personnel. Personnel staff will finish the “Notice” by adding the dates for suspension or the effective date of discharge, and make arrangements through the division manager to have the “Notice” served on the employee.

Must the supervisor serve the discipline/discharge document on the employee?
Doesn’t that put the supervisor in an awkward or even unsafe situation? If the situation is awkward, you (the supervisor) may need to be the bad guy and serve the document on your employee. If the situation is more than awkward or uncomfortable, your bosses will not place you in a risky, dangerous, or explosive situation. Your division manager and Personnel Services will arrange to have the document served by a document delivery service.

Under no circumstance should you (the supervisor) serve a discipline/discharge document on an employee at home. If the employee is off duty when the document is to be served, notify your division manager who will arrange for a delivery service through Personnel.

For a suspension, who decides on the days to be served? Can the days be split up among payroll periods or while the employee is already off duty (IOD, sick, or on unpaid leave)?
You and your division manager decide on the days that the employee will serve the suspension. Your decision should be based on what is best for you and your operation – not what is best for the employee.

Yes, the days can be split among payroll periods, but you should try to NOT have the suspension spread out too far apart or the point is lost and it takes too long to “move on.”

Is there some special protocol in processing the paperwork after serving the “Notice” of discipline/discharge on the employee?
Yes, the ORIGINAL copy of the “Notice” must be completed (who served on employee, when, and how). The ORIGINAL of the “Notice” must be returned to the GSD Personnel Office. The Personnel Office then makes copies for department files, and forwards the ORIGINAL of the “Notice” to the Civil Service Commission.

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I need to meet with an employee as part of my investigation into theft of tools. The employee may or may not be subject to discipline after I conclude my investigation. When I ask the employee to meet with me she says she wants a union representative with her. Must I accommodate the request for representation?
Yes, up to a point. The law says that an employee who reasonably believes that she may be disciplined is entitled to representation during any investigative meeting if she requests representation.

But, there are some fine points involved with this question. First, you do not have to ask if the employee wants representation, and if she does not ask, you do not have to accommodate. However, it is best if you make sure the employee knows her right to representation so that there is no confusion later.

Second, if the employee requests representation, you must wait a reasonable amount of time to allow the employee to obtain representation. The exception is, of course, if there is an emergency and we cannot wait.

I called an employee into my office to counsel him. He said that I could not counsel him until he has his union there to represent him. Must I wait for the representative to be present before I can counsel or serve notice of discipline on an employee?
Absolutely not. The law does not require representation for an employee at the point of administering the discipline (counseling or serving the “Notice”). In fact, it is a bad idea to allow a representative to be present while “administering” the discipline.

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Are employees allowed time, with pay, to meet with their representatives to prepare for a disciplinary meeting (investigation or due process)?
No. Do not allow employees to prepare for a discipline meeting on City time. It is okay to allow vacation, if work schedules permit, to prepare for a discipline meeting. However, the employee on vacation cannot disrupt the work of other employees.

Are employees entitled to time, with pay, to attend a Skelly meeting (scheduled by Personnel Services)?
Yes. However, the employee needs to make sure you approve time to attend the meeting. You should not let the meeting or processing of discipline interfere with production.

Can an employee attend a Civil Service Commission or arbitration hearing while on the clock (with pay)?
Yes, if the hearing is conducted during the employee's regular work schedule. We must allow the employee to attend, on City time, any HEARINGS scheduled to consider the employee’s appeal.

What if the HEARING is scheduled when the employee is not scheduled to work? Shall I change the employee's work schedule or allow him to work overtime to attend the HEARING?
Do not change an employee's work schedule to accommodate his attendance at his HEARING. And, do not change his time at his HEARING to overtime.

Any exception to this practice should be discussed with your Liaison Personnel Analyst.

One of the early questions in this section on discipline referred to a suspension “with pay” and Disciplinary Pay Status. What is that?
In rare cases the General Manager can officially “suspend” an employee without actually taking the employee off work, without pay. If the employee agrees, the suspension is recorded for purposes of progressive discipline, but time is not served and there is no loss of pay.

The agreement is called “Disciplinary Pay Status.” For example, an employee up for a 15-day suspension who agrees to Disciplinary Pay Status, has the suspension recorded by the Civil Service Commission, but does not lose any work time. If the employee’s problem continues (usually absenteeism), the next disciplinary action in this example would most likely be a discharge.

Division managers may propose Disciplinary Pay Status to the Personnel Director, but it is up to the Personnel Director to recommend it to the General Manager, based on the facts of the case and similar cases in the department.

I have heard another disciplinary term that needs explanation. What is a “Last Chance Agreement?”
As the terms suggest, in some rare cases the Personnel Director will approve a “contract” with an employee who would otherwise be recommended for discharge. The contract between the department and the employee provides that the employee will not be discharged if she fulfills the terms of the contract for the contract period.

For example, an employee up for discharge may be offered a contract for 18 months during which time she must not commit any similar infractions and meet other very strict conditions. If she is successful in meeting the terms of the contract, the Personnel Director may recommend a suspension (even a disciplinary pay status) to the General Manager.

If the employee violates any of the terms of the “contract” she will be discharged for violation of the “Last Chance Agreement.”

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