I hear from many human resources professionals that the often stressful and unenjoyable task of administering corrective discipline, including terminations, falls to them. It is counterproductive for a company’s HR staff to be viewed as the “Grim Reaper” by employees, when one of the primary roles of a human resources generalist is to maintain open lines of communication and establish trust with the work force. Furthermore, HR usually has the role of conducting investigations preceding disciplinary action, and evaluating whether the discipline recommended by management is consistent with company policy and practice. Having HR staff administer discipline interferes with the objectivity required for these roles.
In some organizations, the higher level managers take the task upon themselves, often due to a lack of trust that their front line supervisors will “do it right.” This prevents supervisors from developing their skills and distracts managers from focusing on the strategic, big picture tasks they are paid to accomplish. It also removes a key distinguishing factor of supervisory status for the front line supervisors, which can prove costly in any disputes over the supervisor’s exempt status.
From the perspective of defending employment claims, the person who administers the discipline is usually considered the decision-maker – and therefore a key witness. The farther the person administering the discipline is separated from the incidents– whether it is poor performance or a rules violation – the more risk that their lack of knowledge of the details can be exploited.
The best practice is to have the employee’s direct supervisor administer the discipline. Of course, a manager or HR staff member should provide guidance to the supervisor during the process and participate in the disciplinary meeting as a witness. It is also important to provide supervisors with training on effective corrective discipline, so they will have the skills to handle the disciplinary process tactfully and avoid creating exposure to employment claims.