Everything you need to know about taking disciplinary action against employees!  Learn about: 1. Guidelines of Disciplinary Action 2. The Red Hot Stove Rule? 3. Procedure for Disciplinary Action 4. Penalties and Punishment 5. Process for Disciplinary Action 6.  Punishment 7. Suspension for Disciplinary Action 8.  Dismissal and Discharge of an Employee


  1. Guidelines of Disciplinary Action
  2. Disciplinary Action- The Red Hot Stove Rule?
  3. Disciplinary Action- Procedure 
  4. Disciplinary Action- Penalties and Punishment
  5. Process for Disciplinary Action
  6. Punishment for Disciplinary Action
  7. Suspension for Disciplinary Action
  8. Dismissal and Discharge of an Employee

How to take  Disciplinary Action against Employees: A Complete Guide

1. Guidelines of Disciplinary Action:

The principal ingredients of a sound disciplinary system are:

(a) Location of Responsibility:


The responsibility for maintaining discipline should be entrusted to a responsible person (e.g., a line executive), though it is the personnel officer who should be entrusted with the responsibility of offering advice and assistance. The line executive should issue only verbal and written warnings. In serious cases, which warrant discharge or suspension, the Industrial Relations Officer should be consulted.

(b) Proper Formulation and Communication of Rules:

Since employees are expected to conform to rules and regulations and behave in a responsible manner, it is essential that these rules and regulations are properly and carefully formulated and communicated to them. It would be preferable if a copy of these regulations, together with any explanations thereof, is included in their handbook; at any rate, they should be put up on notice-boards and bulletin boards. While finalising the rules, everyone should be given the opportunity to express freely his views thereon.

(c) Rules and Regulations should be Reasonable:


Plant conditions and the management climate should be such as would be conducive to the observance of rules and regulations. The workload should be such as is practicable in normal working conditions for an average employee. While penalising him for not producing an item in accordance with the standard laid down for it, the supervisor should first determine whether such a standard was attainable and whether the employee was capable of producing it in accordance with the standard laid down for it.

Rules should continually be re-evaluated to ascertain whether they are applicable to changing organisational conditions. Employees tend to lose respect for rules that either seem illogical and out of date or are not enforced. Further, rules should always be enforced equitably, promptly and consistently, or they will lose their effectiveness.

(d) Equal Treatment:

All defaulters should be treated alike, depending on the nature of their offence. Identical punishment should be awarded for identical offences, irrespective of the position or seniority of the employee. It is a bad practice to punish one man for an offence and let off another for no other reason than that he is a favourite of the management.


Experience shows that no one likes to be treated in a manner which he thinks is not just. That is why overly severe penalties, inconsistently applied rules, favouritism, and other discriminatory actions breed dissatisfaction. Therefore, the supervisors should make sure that rules and penalties are applied equitably — the same to everyone.

(e) Disciplinary Action should be Taken in Private:

This is essential because the main objective of a disciplinary action is to ensure that a wrong behaviour is corrected and not that the wrong­doer should be punished, or held up to ridicule. If a disciplinary action is taken in the presence of other employees, it may offend the sense of dignity of the employee and impair his social standing with his colleagues.

Such an action may rouse resentment in the employee and in his fellow-workers, and make for a disturbed climate in the organisation.


The subordinate’s dignity should not be robbed. For this Dessler suggests that following hints should be kept in mind- (i) The subordinate should be disciplined in private; (ii) Avoid “entrapment”- Don’t deliberately rig a situation that causes him to require disciplining; (iii) Don’t use an otherwise innocent and one-time offender as “an example”; (iv) Don’t suddenly tighten the enforcement where enforcement has previously been lax; (v) Don’t attack his personal worth for specific offences. Attack the act, not the man, and don’t base comments about his overall worth on one or two specific offences; (vi) Don’t apply penalties inconsistently.

(f) Importance of Promptness in Taking Disciplinary Action:

Justice delayed is justice denied if the penalty is imposed long after a violation of rules has been committed; it loses its positive and corrective influence, and may even induce resentment, which may not have developed if the penalty had been imposed in time. Care should, therefore, be exercised to ensure that a penalty is imposed soon after an infringement of a rule has occurred, and that the punishment is not unfair.

If decision has been justly taken for termination of an employee, it should be implemented soon. Often, even if some notice is mandatory, immediate dismissal with the salary for the requisite notice period paid in advance is preferable to retaining the employee for that period because such an employee would not only be productive during these days but he would also sow the seeds of discontent among other employees.


(g) Innocence is Presumed:

An individual is presumed to be innocent until he is proven to be guilty. The burden of proof is on the employer and not on the employee. It is for the management to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that a violation or an offence has been committed before any punishment is awarded. The kind of proof that would be needed for this purpose would depend on the gravity of the offence that has been committed.

(h) Get the Facts:

Before taking any disciplinary action, it should be made sure to get and keep adequate records of offences and warnings. It is always better to let the subordinate fully explain what happened any why it happened. It may then be discovered that there were mitigating circumstances, or that he was not aware of the rules; or that the person had conflicting orders or even permission to break the rule for some reason.


Getting facts is a good management practice, especially when defending the decision to superiors, union arbitrators and others.

(i) Action Should be Taken in Cool Atmosphere:

The action should be taken, not when one is anger but when the anger has “cooled off” a bit so that rational and sensible judgement could be taken. Further, the subordinate should be clearly told as to what rules or regulation was broken and how it was broken. Specific details need to be given — not just the generalities discussed.

(j) Natural Justice:


A punitive action must satisfy the condition of natural justice. The management must act without bias and without vindictiveness; it should always indicate that its disciplinary action against an employee is based on justice and fair play. The punishment should be commensurate with the gravity of the offence; and it should be corrective or reformative rather than retributive. The employee should be taught to behave better; he should be “rehabilitated”, and not “injured.”

(k) After a Disciplinary Action has Been Taken the Supervisor Should Treat his Subordinate in a Normal Manner:

The employee has paid the penalty for his violation of a rule. He should, therefore, be treated as he would have been had there been no violation and no punishment. The attitude of the supervisor should be- “Forgive and forget.” Once the subordinate has been disciplined, the supervisor should assume that he is starting then with a clean state- he should not harbour a grudge that make others assume that he is prone to engaging in vendettas.

(l) Don’t Back Down When You Are Right:

When the supervisor knows he is right — that the rule was broken, that adequate warning is given, that the penalty is not too severe — he should not back down or compromise on penalty — especially once the decision is announced. In most cases “being soft” is not viewed as a virtue. Instead, employees either assume that the rule itself is frivolous, or that the rules and penalties are being applied inconsistently. In either case, backing down is not advisable.

(m) Negative Motivation Should be Handled in a Positive Manner:


The philosophy behind administering disciplinary action is that a negative motivation should be handled in a positive manner, that is, it should be brought home to the employee that a negative approach does not pay. Positively-oriented managers generally feel that discipline should not punish but instead be corrective and constructive.

As far as possible, disciplinary action should deal with specific rule infraction rather than with the employee in general. The saying “let the punishment fit the crime” is appropriate when disciplining the employee.

(n) Who Should Discipline?

Usually, the immediate supervisor of the worker is an appropriate authority to provide correctional comments and to suggest future course of action. Since he is responsible for the action of his subordinates, he is better knowledgeable concerning the level of performance required and the individual worker’s actions in meeting specified standards.

(o) When is Action Appropriate?

Some managers operate on the assumption that a worker should be corrected at the first hint of a mistake; while other managers prefer to postpone action until a deliberate pattern of errors can be identified. The most appropriate time for disciplining to occur is after the facts indicate that the individual in question has performed unsatisfactorily and has failed to take initiative in correcting his own behaviour.

2. Disciplinary Action- The Red Hot Stove Rule?


McGregor has suggested that disciplining and penalties should occur:

i. Immediately following the commission of an erroneous or insufficient act;

ii. With advance warning in the sense that the worker knows what is expected and what the action will be toward him if he does not live up to the expectations;

iii. Consistently against all individuals who commit the same shortcoming under the same conditions; and

iv. Impersonally in that personalities are not criticised, but the deed or action receives the corrective or punitive attention.

According to McGregor, “hot stove rule” implies that if the rules and penalties are clear and well understood, a violation produces some natural consequences. Just as the penalty for touching the stove is immediate, i.e., the burning of fingers occurs at once, so in a sound disciplinary system, the penalty for the violation should be immediate, almost automatic.


Disciplinary action delay can do positive harm to the organisation and affect the morale of other workers who are law-abiding. There are two other characteristics of the hot stove which a sound disciplinary system should possess, namely, impartiality or consistency and impersonality. The principle of impartiality is that under identical situations where even the extenuating circumstances are alike, there should be not marked difference in the action taken.

The hot stove burns all fingers or all limbs that touch it in the manner whether it is a child or a beautiful young damsel or an old man who touches the stove. The principle of impersonality implies that the hot stove does not have any kind of subjective or personal feeling in inflicting pain and suffering on any one who touches it.

Similarly, the disciplinary authority should neither have a sense of elation or triumph or sadistic pleasure when a recalcitrant or delinquent employee is brought to book.

The disciplining authority should neither be happy nor sad when after going through the proper processes, action is taken against the defaulter in order to maintain the discipline in the organisation and also to train him for right conduct.

3. Disciplinary Action– Procedure:

Although there is no specific procedure to be followed, the following steps should be taken into consideration:

Disciplinary Action- Procedure # (a) Accurate Statement of the Problem:


The first step is to ascertain the problem by seeking answers to the following questions:

i. Does this case call for a disciplinary action?

ii. What, exactly, is the nature of the violation or offence?

iii. Under what conditions did it occur?

iv. Which individual or individuals were involved in it?

v. When, or how often, did the violation occur?


In other words, an executive must first find out that a violation has occurred and that it is entirely the fault, or at least partially the fault, of one or more subordinates. The next step is to determine and state the nature of the alleged violation of a rule, a regulation, a policy; to determine whether a request or order has been ignored or broken, and assess the seriousness of the specific offence which has been committed.

It is also necessary to know exactly who and what was involved in the violation — whether a particular individual or a group. Finally, it is desirable to know when and / or how often the violation occurred.

Disciplinary Action- Procedure # (b) Collecting Facts Bearing on the Case:

Before any action is taken in a case, it is essential to gather all the facts about it. A thorough examination of the case should be made within the stipulated time limit. The facts gathered should be such as can be produced before a higher authority, if and when needed.

Disciplinary Action- Procedure # (c) Selection of Tentative Penalties:

The kind of penalty to be imposed for an offence should be determined beforehand. Should it be a simple reprimand, a financial or non-financial penalty? Or should it be demotion, temporary lay-off or outright discharge?

Disciplinary Action- Procedure # (d) Choice of Penalty:

When a decision has been taken to impose a penalty, the punishment to be awarded should be such as would prevent a recurrence of the offence. If the punishment is lighter than it should be, it may encourage the violation of the same rule or another; if it is greater than it should be, it may lead to a grievance.

Disciplinary Action- Procedure # (e) Application of the Penalty:

The application of the penalty involves a positive and assured attitude on the part of the management. “If the disciplinary action is a simple reprimand, the executive should calmly and quickly dispose of the matter. But when severe action is called for, a forthright, serious and determined attitude is highly desirable.”

Disciplinary Action- Procedure # (f) Follow-Up on Disciplinary Action:

The ultimate purpose of a disciplinary action is to maintain discipline, to ensure productivity, and avoid a repetition of the offence. A disciplinary action should, therefore, be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness after it has been taken. In other words, there should be a more careful supervision of the persons against whom a disciplinary action has been taken.

4. Disciplinary Action- Penalties and Punishment:

As a result of custom and well-established practices, industrial penalties have become fairly standardised. They vary from mild to harsh — from oral reprimand, written reprimand, loss of privileges and fines to temporary suspension, demotion or discharge. Ordinarily, there are different penalties for the same offence when it is committed once, or the second time, or the third time. Minor offences generally call for the application of a progressive penalty system.

For an average person, an oral reprimand is enough to prevent repetition of the same offence. A written reprimand is administered when an offence is committed the second time, or when it is of a somewhat serious nature.

The penalty of the loss of privileges withholding of increment, restriction on free movement in the place of work, withholding of the right to choose a machine or equipment with which, or on which, he would prefer to work, posting on an uncongenial job — may be imposed for such offences as tardiness, disobedience of the orders of the supervisor or of safety rules, or being unnecessarily noisy while at work.

For more serious offences — for example, gross negligence of duty, repeated misbehaviour, or infliction of an injury on another employee, or fraud the penalty may be temporary lay-off form one to seven days without pay. Demotion as a penalty is rarely used. But whenever this penalty is imposed, it is usually by top line executives.

Discharge is, of course, the severest penalty that can be imposed upon an employee, and is awarded for such serious offences as fraud of a serious nature, sabotage, or working against the interests of the company. Even so, this weapon is used only as a last resort. A disciplinary action thus takes a variety of forms, varying from a simple oral reprimand to discharge.

The offences for which an employee may be discharged are listed below:

(i) Actions Most Frequently Leading to Discharge after a First Offence:

(a) Theft;

(b) Falsifying application for employment;

(c) Possession of narcotics;

(d) Wilful damage to company property;

(e) Possessions of firearms or other weapons;

(f) Falsifying records of work;

(g) Fighting;

(h) Off-the-job criminal activities;

(i) Failure to report injuries;

(j) Unauthorised strike;

(k) Subversive activity;

(l) Drunk while at work; and

(m) Punching another employee’s time card.

(ii) Actions Most Frequently Leading to Discharge after a Second Offence:

(a) Sleeping on the job;

(b) Use of abusive or threatening language to a supervisor;

(c) Insubordination; and

(d) Gambling.

(iii) Action Most Frequently Leading to Discharge after Third Offence:

(a) Horseplay;

(b) Unauthorised soliciting;

(c) Leaving work without permission;

(d) Failure to use safety devices;

(e) Smoking in unauthorised places; and

(f) Slowdown on production.

(iv) Action Most Frequently Leading to Discharge after a Fourth Offence:

(a) Carelessness;

(b) Chronic absenteeism;

(c) Unexcused absence; and

(d) Unexcused or excessive lateness.

Some executives have developed other ways of punishing an employee without actually discharging him:

i. The flow of work is so altered as to pass around a particular employee, so that he may have nothing to do; so that he may be bored and get fed up; and so submit his resignation.

ii. The post may be abolished and the duties attached to it may be distributed among other employees. After the concerned person has left the organisation, the duties may be reassembled and a new employee may be hired to do the job.

iii. The resignation of the employee may be secured by bringing some pressure to bear upon him or by threatening him with other and more serious consequences.

iv. The employee may be transferred to some other department. In other words, “the hot potato” may be pitched to someone else.

v. In higher positions, the undesirable person may be “pushed up” — that is, he may be promoted out of turn, may be made a consultant who is never consulted.

In this connection, it may be borne in mind that it may be enough for some employees to get a severe “chewing out” to ensure that they do not become guilty of any other violation in future. For others, even a casual reference to their deficiency may be adequate enough to ensure that they fall in line.

5. Process for Disciplinary Action:

One of the main criteria to be borne in mind while administering a disciplinary action is the concept of due process or just cause. In determining whether an employee is being disciplined for a just case, the management has to consider three main factors. Did the employee, in fact, commit an act of indiscipline? If the management can prove this, the second consideration is- Should the employee be punished? In this connection, it should be noted that an employee should not be punished simply because he has been guilty of an infringement of a rule or a procedure.

It may be that such an infringement has been made possible by custom, tradition or past practice. However, even if it is decided that the employee’s action warrants punishment, the third consideration is that the penalty to be imposed should be commensurate with the nature and gravity or otherwise of an offence.

In this context, reference may be made to Article 311 of the Indian Constitution, which says that “no person shall be dismissed or removed from service until he has been given a reasonable opportunity to show why the proposed action should not be taken against him.” The Model Standing Orders, too, lay down that, “before an employee is dismissed, he should be given an opportunity to explain the circumstances against him.”

Process # (a) Charge Sheet is Framed and Issued:

The first step in the procedure is to frame a written charge sheet which is based upon a written complaint against the employee in question, and which contains details of the offence with which he is charged and the allegations of misconduct made against him, and indicating the time limit within which a reply to the charge sheet should be submitted to the authorities.

The employee is called upon to show why a disciplinary action should not be taken against him. The contents and implications of the charge sheet may be explained to him in his own language and in the presence of some reputable witness, before a copy of it is handed over to him.

If he refuses to accept it, it should be sent to his residential address under “registered post with acknowledgment due.” If the employee refuses to take delivery of the registered letter, or when it has been returned undelivered, it should be published in a local paper to ensure its wide publicity.

Process # (b) Receipt of Explanation:

The employee may submit his explanation within the prescribed period of time, or he may ask for an extension of time for its submission. In the latter case, the request should be considered in good faith in accordance with the rules of natural justice.

Process # (c) Issue of Notice of Enquiry:

If the explanation received from the employee is found to be unsatisfactory, a notice of enquiry, mentioning the time, date and place, has to be given to him in which the name of the person or officer who would conduct the enquiry would also be mentioned. The employee is required to be present at the appointed time and place, together with his witnesses, if he has any.

Process # (d) The Holding of Enquiry:

On the appointed day and at the appointed place and time, the enquiry is held by the enquiry officer in the presence of the employee. The contents of the charge sheet and an explanation of the procedure to be followed at the enquiry are communicated to the worker. If he pleads his innocence, the enquiry proceeds; but if he pleads guilty, unconditionally and in writing, the enquiry is dropped.

The details of the enquiry are recorded and the report is signed by the enquiry officer and the employee. After all the witness has been examined against the employee the defense witnesses, including the employee, are called upon to submit their statements. All the supporting evidence and documents may be called by the enquiry officer and thoroughly examined.

Process # (e) The Findings:

Once the enquiry is over, the enquiry officer has to give his findings, which should invariably contain the procedure which was followed, the parties’ statements, the documents produced and examined, the charges made and the explanations given and the evidence produced. The officer should then record his own findings on each of the charges and the grounds on which he has come to a particular conclusion. He should specifically mention which charges have been proved and which have not been proved.

He then submits his findings to the authorities empowered to take a disciplinary action against the employee. He, however, is not required to make any recommendations.

Process # (f) Decision:

On receiving the report, the executive authorised to take a decision thereon passes an order of punishment.

Process # (g) Communication of the Order:

A copy of the order is then handed over to the employee.

6. Punishment for Disciplinary Action:

Depending on the gravity of misconduct, management may initiate the following punitive actions against the employee who is found guilty- (i) dismissal; (ii) discharge; (in) discharge simpliciter; (iv) suspension; (v) demotion to a lower grade; (vi) with-holding of increments; (vii) fine; and (viii) warning / censure. Of these, suspension, discharge or dismissal may be classified as major punishments, while awarding a fine, warning or censure are regarded as minor punishments.

In establishments where the Industrial Employment (Standing order) Act is applicable, the employer can award only those punishments which are mentioned in the Standing Orders. The object of punishing an employee in a minor way is to express the concern of the employer for maintaining discipline in the establishment. Oral warnings, written censure, fines, etc., all aim at preventing the employee from going off the track.

The fine may hit the take-home-pay of the employee, warnings may be entered in his personal record, loss of increment has an element of shame attached to it and demotion may be extremely humiliating for the delinquent employee. Discharge simpliciter means termination of an employee services for loss of confidence and trust and does not carry the stigma of misconduct.

Major punishment such as suspension, discharge and dismissal need further elaboration and are hence discussed separately here.

7. Suspension for Disciplinary Action:

Suspension means prohibiting an employee from attending work, preventing him from discharging the duties assigned to him and withholding the wages payable to him. Suspension does not imply termination of services of an employee- it only means denial of work to him.

When the act of misconduct of an employee is considered serious, he is suspended (called as procedural suspension) and an enquiry is ordered to find out whether he is really guilty or not.

Sometimes the employee may be suspended, even before issuing a charge sheet so as to prevent him from tampering with the records of the organisation. The employer is obliged to pay a subsistence allowance (one half of basic wage + dearness and compensatory allowances) to the delinquent employee for a period of 90 days. If the enquiry goes beyond 90 days, the allowance is increased to three fourths of the employees’ normal emoluments.

Minor offences like late coming, sleeping while at work, smoking in prohibited places, etc., do not invite serious punishments like suspension unless the employee repeats the offences habitually. Where standing orders are in force, the rules for suspending an employee are mentioned therein and are expected to be followed scrupulously.

8. Dismissal and Discharge of an Employee:

The final outcome of both dismissal and discharge is same that is the employee’s services stand terminated. Some minor differences between the two terms need to be noted down here. While dismissal is a sort of punishment against alleged misconduct, discharge is not always a punishment. When the employer examines all background factors leading to the termination of services of an employee, he may simply discharge the employee instead of dismissing him.

Dismissal has a negative connotation and carries a punitive label alongside. A person who is dismissed from service may find it difficult to find alternative employment, when compared to a person who is discharged from service. In case of discharge, the errant employee may be served a reasonable, advance notice. This is not so in the case of dismissal where the services are terminated immediately.

In case of dismissal, the employer can withhold the dues payable to the employee whereas in case of discharge, usually all these are settled simultaneously. Finally, before dismissing an employee, the employer has to hold disciplinary proceedings (domestic enquiry) in a proper way. In case of discharge, he may or may not go for it.

The grounds for dismissing an employee are clearly stated in Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (as amended in 1982) and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946 – such as wilful insubordination, theft, fraud, dishonesty, habitual late coming, habitual neglect of work, willful damage to property, disorderly violent behaviour, striking work in violation of rules, taking bribes, etc.