Enforcing Policies Consistently

Enforcing Policies Consistently

Organizations rely a lot on policies in order to provide direction for workers. Whether these are for safety, purchasing, human resources or another department, they exist for a reason. No matter how well written, researched and thought out a policy is, however, if it is not enforced, a lot of the time and effort goes to waste. Organizations must ensure that all managers and supervisors are doing their job by enforcing policies consistently.

How Are Violations Dealt With

Progressive discipline is the term used to describe the step by step process that should be used when dealing with policy violations. Employers are required to have a progressive discipline policy under law, and if you are under a certificate of recognition program (COR) for safety, they will ask if your employees if they know what this is. The steps in a progressive discipline policy are:

  1. Verbal Warning- after a first offence, an employee will receive a verbal warning where the supervisor or whoever is giving the warning will explain what the violation is and that this is, basically a first strike. A verbal warning must be documented.
  2. Written Warning- the second offence requires a written warning. This means that the warning is written and placed in the employees file for a set amount of time.
  3. Suspension- after a third offence, the employee can be suspended for a set amount of time.
  4. Termination- if the employee commits a fourth violation, they can be fired from the company.

Progressive discipline can be used to save an employee who is not following safe work practices. A case I heard about through a colleague was about a company that was being charged with the death of an employee. The supervisor testified that he had told the employee ten times that the way he was working was not safe. After having the supervisor describe all ten times how he told the employee he was not working safe, the judge told the supervisor that if he had used progressive discipline and suspended or even fired the employee, the death would have been avoided.

Just as an aside, these same steps can also be used in dealing with employees whose job performance is unsatisfactory. The only thing I would caution is that you may also want to look at the training aspect if employees are not doing well, because they may not have received proper instruction in their task.

Skipping Progressive Discipline

There are times when a violation of policy, especially safety policy, that an employee can be terminated on the spot. The website employmentlaw101.ca lists examples when an employee can be fired for just cause. This is known as summary dismissal or dismissal without notice. These usually occur in extreme cases and the employer is able to justify this in front a judge through proper due diligence. They showed that the employee’s conduct fell under one of the violations that made dismissal justifiable.

The behaviors that can lead to summary dismissal are

  • Incompetence
  • Insubordination and Insolence
  • Workplace Dishonesty (i.e. theft, fraud, deception and breach of trust)
  • Absenteeism and Lateness
  • Harassment (including sexual harassment)
  • Workplace Violence
  • Off-duty Conduct

Importance of Consistency

In a recent case involving sexual harassment in New Brunswick, a judge overturned the firing of an employee because his supervisor allowed a “barnyard-like” atmosphere to exist where improper sexual conduct had taken place. The union filed a grievance that not enough warning had been and that since nobody had been disciplined for this behaviour, it raised the question of “what is permissible?”

It is that question of “what is permissible” that makes enforcing policies consistently important. At no time should employees have to question what behaviours are allowed. By outlining a policy and sticking to it, with the proper steps in the discipline procedure, supervisors can not only ensure their staff knows what is expected of them, but they can also show due diligence so that if an employee breaks policies, they can be removed without fear of the courts or unions bringing that employee back. (In the New Brunswick case, the employee was sent to another office).


Progressive discipline is a great tool if used right. You can use it to remove undesirable employees from a human resource standpoint and to even save a life in safety. By enforcing policies consistently, you provide a guideline and show that favouritism will not exist at a company. It will also prove due diligence, that every employee in a similar situation has been disciplined for a particular misconduct. Summary terminations can also be easier to justify if it can be proven that when other employees have committed a similar violation, the company had been enforcing the policies consistently and there is no question of “what is permissible”.

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