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Employee Discipline: Federal

Employee Discipline requirements by state

Authors: Wayne D. Garris and Christine Zebrowski, Overbrook Law LLC


  • When used appropriately, employee discipline can improve communication with employees and foster positive outcomes. See Treat Discipline as an Opportunity.
  • Failure to adequately discipline employees leads to low overall morale and to a greater risk of liability. See Treat Discipline as an Opportunity.
  • Employers should explore alternatives to discipline in order to improve performance or curtail unacceptable employee behavior. See Alternatives to Discipline.
  • Employers should implement policies and procedures that enforce rules of conduct, communicate those policies to employees and apply disciplinary procedures uniformly. See The Process of Discipline.
  • Employers should communicate their expectations for conduct while employees are on duty, off duty and on the premises. See Communicating Expectations for Workplace Conduct.
  • Common discipline problems include poor attendance, substance abuse and workplace theft. See Specific Discipline Situations.
  • Attendance policies can be enforced through a system of excused and unexcused absences or no fault policies in which all absences are counted against the employee. See Attendance Policies.
  • An adequate attendance policy should require employees to notify their employers of absences, designate a person to receive absence notification, provide disciplinary consequences for failure to comply with policy and address absence during special events outside of work, including training programs. See Attendance Policies.
  • Employers should promptly discipline instances of workplace theft, which include unauthorized taking of employer property, sabotage, embezzlement, trade secret theft and cyber slacking. See Specific Discipline Situations; Workplace Theft.
  • When disciplining employees with substance abuse problems, employers should explore alternatives to discipline. In addition, employers should consider any privacy protections or antidiscrimination prohibitions when implementing an employee drug testing program. See Specific Discipline Situations; Disciplining Employees With Substance Abuse Problems.
  • Whistleblowing occurs when an employee in a government agency or a private company discloses information or makes a complaint of mismanagement, corruption or wrongdoing. Employers should use extreme caution when disciplining employee whistleblowers. See Specific Discipline Situations; Whistleblower Protections.