5.5 Disciplinary Guidelines

5.5 Disciplinary Guidelines

Ithaca College is an employment-at-will employer and, therefore, reserves the right to terminate any employee for any reason.  However, in most cases the following guidelines should be followed when discipline is necessary.

The College's disciplinary guidelines emphasize the importance of the supervisory function, the need for employees to understand the College's policies and standards of conduct and performance, and the necessity for an ongoing rapport between supervisors and employees.  Supervisory efforts should be concentrated on preventing serious personnel problems from occurring rather than disciplining employees for misconduct.

Discipline problems will be minimal when the supervisor:

  1. Is impartial in the enforcement of rules and regulations;
  2. Is consistent in making decisions;
  3. Is knowledgeable about College policies and procedures and takes the time to explain and interpret them to employees;
  4. Plans, organizes, and assigns work equitably, as well as keeps employees well informed through frequent communication;
  5. Is clear and consistent about job performance and expectations;
  6. Sets a good example (the attitudes of employees often reflects the supervisor's attitudes about the College).

Discipline Policy

If disciplinary measures are necessary:

  1. Each problem should be investigated to discover all pertinent facts;
  2. Discipline should be designed to correct; therefore, it should be equitable, clear, and consistent;
  3. Discipline should be appropriate to the case, and generally the final written warning which precedes a dismissal for poor performance would therefore not be a surprise to the employee. In rare instances, termination without prior warnings may be appropriate.

Causes for Disciplinary Action

Certain standards of performance and conduct must be maintained in any workgroup.  Disciplinary action should be taken in situations INCLUDING, BUT NOT RESTRICTED TO, misconduct such as the following:

  1. Insubordination or refusal to work:  Physical or verbal resistance to authority and work direction. Employees who are unruly and disobedient are considered insubordinate.
  2. Use of alcohol or narcotics:  Bringing alcohol or narcotics on campus, as well as being under the influence of either during work hours. Any violation of College policy regarding the Drug-Free Workplace Act, the Drug-Free Schools and Community Act Amendments of 1989, or the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act.
  3. Theft or dishonesty:  Unauthorized possession of College-owned property or dishonest actions such as providing false information to a supervisor or other college official in response to direct inquiry, falsification of records (e.g., time card or pre-employment information such as employment application forms or resumes).
  4. Willful damage to, or unauthorized use of, College property.
  5. Physical fights:  Employees engaged in fistfights, wrestling, and similar encounters.
  6. Tardiness/absenteeism:  Repeated absenteeism, tardiness or unauthorized absence.
  7. Discourteous treatment of students, alumni, campus visitors, coworkers.
  8. Interference with the job performance of other employees.
  9. Inexcusable neglect of work or responsibility.
  10. Stopping work, loitering, or leaving work area during working time without permission.
  11. Willful violation of health and safety rules.
  12. Neglect or mishandling of equipment or supplies.
  13. Distribution of literature or solicitation for any cause during working time.
  14. Obscene language, abusive language, and/or malicious gossip.
  15. Conviction of a felony.
  16. Conviction of a misdemeanor involving moral depravity or relating to job responsibilities.
  17. Unprofessional conduct.
  18. Violations of College policy or regulations:  Including but not limited to: sexual harassment policy, AIDS policy, smoking policies, Internet/e-mail and other computer-usage regulations, safety rules, traffic regulations, and so forth.
  19. Other:  The above list outlines some reasons for disciplinary action but is not meant to be an all-inclusive list.

Disciplinary Action

Supervisors are required to take disciplinary action when established procedures are not followed or when rules of conduct are ignored to the detriment of the work group or the College.  Disciplinary penalties and procedures range in severity from verbal and written warnings to suspension, demotion, or dismissal.

The employee relations staff members in the Office of Human Resources are available for consultation at all stages of a disciplinary matter.  Disciplinary actions sometimes result in legal proceedings.  In some of these hearings it is determined that discipline is justified, yet the determination may be in favor of the employee because it is demonstrated that a supervisor failed to follow College procedures or was inconsistent in taking disciplinary action.  Therefore, all suspensions demotions or dismissals must be discussed in advance with the Office of Human Resources.

The types of disciplinary actions are outlined below.

  1. Verbal Warning

The supervisor should discuss the matter with the employee privately and in a positive manner. The first objective is to find out whether the employee understands the rules involved or the standard expected. The supervisor should consider whether special circumstances may have been involved. 

The supervisor should keep a written record of the date and content of discussions by filing notes confidentially within the department.

  1. Written Warning

A more serious infraction or a problem which continues in spite of a verbal warning(s) may require a written warning.  A formal meeting should be held with the employee and confirmed by a letter to the employee indicating reference to earlier verbal warning(s); how the employee has failed to meet department or College standards; a suggested course of action; and a time period for checking progress.  The employee also should be informed that, unless the situation is corrected, it will lead to more severe disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.  It should be discussed with the employee that a written warning is a serious step and a copy will be placed in her/his official personnel file in the Office of Human Resources.  If the problem is not resolved after this action, the next step will depend on the type of problem and content of this first written warning.  A second or third warning letter, suspension, and/or dismissal may follow.

The employee relations staff members in the Office of Human Resources offer consulting services to supervisors who are documenting performance deficiencies or violations of College policies and procedures.  A supervisor must review, with either the associate vice president for human resources or the director of employee relations, all final warning letters or letters placing an employee on disciplinary probation prior to issuing such warnings to an employee.

The written warning serves an important role in the disciplinary process.  It indicates to the employee the seriousness of the problem and the consequences of failure to correct the situation.  If a discharge is later challenged, this action is more readily upheld and it is less likely an employee will be reinstated if the employee’s personnel file shows previous warnings.  Employees are sometimes reinstated because of failure to give adequate written warnings.

  1. Disciplinary Suspension

Disciplinary suspension involves removal from the payroll for a prescribed period of time.  Before suspending an employee, the supervisor must discuss the situation with her/his department head and the associate vice president for human resources or director of employee relations.  A supervisor may remove the employee from the work group for the remainder of the shift, pending such discussion.

Notification of disciplinary suspension must be given to the employee in person and confirmed in writing.  A suspension is usually not given unless the employee has been given previous verbal and written warnings.  The suspension is a disciplinary step that is appropriate in some situations; however, many dismissal cases will progress from written warnings directly to dismissal.

A disciplinary suspension differs from an "investigatory leave of absence."  If a serious incident or difficulty occurs which may warrant discharge or a disciplinary suspension, an employee may be placed on an investigatory leave of absence, that is, the employee may be told not to report to work pending a review of the situation.  The leave will be unpaid unless the matter is resolved without a suspension or dismissal.  At the discretion of the associate vice president for human resources, all or part of the leave may be paid if the investigation time is unusually lengthy because information or individuals needed for the review are not readily available.

  1. Demotion

A demotion to a lower-level position may be appropriate when an employee is unable to satisfactorily perform her/his present job and another type of position is available. In rare situations, a demotion may occur because of inappropriate action in the current job, such as misuse of supervisor authority. This action assumes that the demoted employee is judged able to operate effectively in the new position and the College reserves the right to terminate the employee at any time in the future as the circumstances warrant.

  1. Dismissal

Except in cases of serious offenses, discharge from employment should be used only as a last resort.  When it becomes necessary to dismiss an employee, it should be clear by the record established that the employee will have, in effect, caused the employee’s own dismissal.

  1. Sequence and Number of Disciplinary Actions Leading to Discharge

In many cases discipline begins with verbal warning(s), followed by written warning(s), and finally dismissal. However, the number and type of such warnings depend on many factors. Normally, there should be at least one verbal and one written warning prior to dismissal and usually not more than three written warnings. In some cases, other measures such as demotion and suspension are appropriate. Depending on the nature of the offense, it may be appropriate to give a written warning even though there was no previous verbal warning. Discharge or suspension without prior verbal or written warning(s) may be imposed by the College at its discretion for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, theft, breach of confidentiality, positive drug test, sexual harassment, etc. by an employee.

The seriousness of the case and the previous record of the employee will determine which type of disciplinary action is appropriate. The supervisor should seek assistance from the supervisor’s director or vice president and from the associate vice president for human resources or director of employee relations. When disciplinary action is being taken, the supervisor must be certain that the employee understands exactly what is expected and what the consequences will be for failure to meet the expectations. The supervisor also must be sure to follow up on all warnings within the period specified.

Last Updated: May 2021