Let’s face it – one of the most challenging (and often least enjoyable) responsibilities that a supervisor has is when they have to address an issue with an employee’s work performance.  It becomes a crucial balance for a supervisor to decide what actions or inactions require discipline, but to also ensure that the discipline does not harm the dignity of the employee or productivity of the workplace.


If an employee is not performing their essential job duties, or has acted inappropriately, then using proper discipline techniques will increase the chances that the employee will improve or stop the undesired behavior. A well-documented record of employee discipline can be used to counter any wrongful termination claims, or other lawsuits that an employee may assert.


Below are some tips that a supervisor can take to address work performance issues in a productive manner.

  • Conduct the discussion with the employee in a private place, and present the problem in a calm manner.
  • Describe precisely what your concerns are and the impact the employee’s behavior has on the organization.
  • Allow the employee to tell his or her account of the problem. Occasionally an employee may experience personal issues that may have an impact on their work performance.  For example, the employee may have a family member who is ill. During the discussion, the employee may express certain needs that would entitle the employee to assistance required by federal law (i.e. disability accommodations or FMLA leave).
  • Remind the employee what the workplace expectations are and, if necessary, review any rules or policies.
  • Inform the employee what the consequences may be if improvement is not made.
  • If a verbal warning is not effective, then the employer should consider using one of the three formal disciplinary actions – a written warning, suspension or termination. Some employee actions may be so egregious that the employer chooses to terminate the employee instead of giving a verbal warning. Therefore, it is important that any policy or manual does not restrict the right of the employer to use whichever disciplinary method the employer deems appropriate.  Also, any formal disciplinary actions should be written and entail sufficient details and examples so the employee fully understands the basis for the disciplinary action.


  • Clearly communicate the expectations in the workplace and each employee’s job requirements. These objectives should be straightforward so that there is no ambiguity in the mind of the employee. One way this can be accomplished is through the use of employee manuals or written policies.
  • Address work performance issues promptly.
  • Consider having regular performance evaluations so that employees can understand their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Reward and recognize employees who demonstrate good performance.
  • Provide additional training or coaching to employees. Although time consuming, this method can greatly benefit the employee who is willing to make an effort to improve.
  • Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.