The Hot Stove Rule - Discipline
Ever-increasing employment legislation makes it harder and harder for managers to remember how the law operates in the workplace. However, there are a few simple principles which are easy to remember and which provide a solid basis in helping both staff and managers understand both the spirit and the letter of the law.
The Hot Stove Rule is one such principle and relates to disciplinary measures in the workplace. When you touch a hot stove marked "Don’t Touch" the discipline is immediate, with warning, consistent and impersonal.
So frequently, I have known managers to become exasperated at an employee’s actions (or in some cases, lack of action) to the point that they want to dismiss them instantly or, at the very least, progress to a final written warning. An angry and emotional response to an employee’s behaviour or poor performance will do more harm than good, both in terms of employee relations and with regard to potential financial costs.
Although I may not always give the managers the answer they want to hear, it is important to take a deep breath, step back and reflect for a moment.
Investigating the situation
Did the employee know that what they have done, or failed to do, is wrong? It may be obvious to you or me but is this a company rule which is documented somewhere? If so, has the employee had a copy of this and, more importantly, can the manager prove the employee has had a copy of this?
If the issue concerns performance, does the employee have a written and up-to-date job description with clearly identified standards of performance? Has previous performance which falls below standard been addressed or has it been allowed to continue unabated?
If you attempt to formally discipline someone without addressing these issues, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a very upset and shocked employee whose defence is that no-one had said anything to them in the past, that they had seen others do the same thing and nothing had been said and that they had no idea they’d done anything wrong.
Key principles to remember
- Always remember the Hot Stove Rule where discipline is concerned:-
- You had a warning – you knew what would happen if you touched the stove
- The penalty was consistent – everyone gets the same treatment
- The penalty is impersonal – a person is burned not because of who he or she is, but because the stove was touched
- The penalty is not delayed
- So check out the facts first, follow due process and, if appropriate, apply the discipline as soon after the event as investigations will allow. If you fail to be consistent, you may end up getting your own fingers burnt!