How to take disciplinary action is a lot more than completing a form an having an employee sign it. Sound familiar. Yep, I’ve done that too. And when sit and sign was my system usually the only thing I accomplished was animosity from the employee. The action didn’t lead to improvement. Just the opposite.

How to Take Disciplinary Action Without Creating Animosity


Establish procedures to modify behavior using a plan of activities, expectations, and consequences to improve performance.


If you surf the web under disciplinary action, most sites will define it as methods to use when performance is below standards. Don’t base disciplinary action on performance alone. Before you consider basing the action on performance, determine what behaviors are causing the low performance. You will not improve performance by using a disciplinary action based only on improving performance. To affect improvement, you must know:

  • Why the performance is below standards
  • What behaviors should be modified
  • What activities will change the behavior


Often leaders are confused as to when to use disciplinary action. Use disciplinary action when team members have decided not to follow procedures or policies. First, determine:

  • Were expectations given, are procedures in place?
  • Has the team member been competently trained, understands, and is able to use the procedures?
  • Were there consequences outside of the team member’s control that affected the performance?

If the team member was trained, had the tools they needed, and was unhindered by outside consequences, then they have decided not to follow procedures. In other words, when a team member knowingly and willfully breaks or ignores policies and procedures, they have made that decision. Any, and every time a team member decides not to follow guidelines, disciplinary action is not only appropriate but should be mandatory.

How to Use Corrective Action Forms

Corrective action forms should include

  1. Type of action — verbal, written, or disciplinary
  • Verbal – This is the first warning. If the behavior continues, it will proceed to a written warning
  • Written – 2nd warning and will proceed to consequences. Do not sugar coat the warning. If the consequences may include termination, then communicate this.
  • Disciplinary – Before completing the disciplinary suspension consider, has the team member been given the training, the support, and the opportunity to succeed? Were there clear expectations, specific actions, trained competencies, and all within the team member’s control? Did you do everything you could do to help this team member? Is the team member aware of the consequences?

2. Reason for the action

3. Corrective action to be taken by the employee

4. Consequences of not adhering to the corrective action

How to complete a corrective action form

  1. Meet privately with the team member. You may consider another supervisor as a witness depending on the severity of the infraction and the team member’s personality
  2. Explain to the team member that the goal of the meeting is to help
  3. Explain the type of action. Usually, the type of action is equal to the degree of the infraction; however, many use the three-strike rule. One verbal (this should be documented), two written, and three disciplinary actions, which could include suspension or termination
  4. Clearly and succinctly, explain the reason for the action. The reason could include incidents, witnesses, dates, circumstances, and others involved. The reason shouldn’t be performance alone. Base the reason on the activities that led to the poor performance. In this way, the leader and team member have areas to concentrate on to improve the performance.
  5. The corrective action should include the activities expected of the team member, including what, when, and how.
  6. The consequences are what the team member can expect from management if they do not follow the corrective action. The consequences should be clear and specific.
  7. Ask the team member to share their comments in writing regardless if they agree or disagree.

Many times, managers have come to me ready to terminate an employee until I asked two questions.

  • Have you done everything you can to help this person?
  • Does the person know their job is in jeopardy? Will they be surprised if they are fired?

If either answer is no, it is not time to terminate.

Ask the team member if they are clear about the reason for the corrective action, actions expected, and the consequences. Have the team member sign and date the form.

If a team member declines to sign the form, explain they certainly have that option. However, only what is currently on the form will be in the records. Advise them to document their point of view in the comment section and sign it to record the information.

This post isn’t about human resource policies. If your organization has a corrective action, form, use it. If you do not, review the form below and tailor one to fit your organization.

Corrective Action Form

Name _______________________________ Date ___________

Type of action Verbal ___ written ____ Disciplinary _____

Reason for the action


The employee will take the following corrective actions


Consequences of not following the corrective action


Employee comments


Employee ________________________________________________ Date __________

Manager _________________________________________________ Date __________

Coming from help 

A young manager came to me and asked, “How can I make a corrective action, not confrontational?” I explained it should never be. Coming from an attitude of help, corrective actions should be based on facts and presented in a non-condescending, non-accusatory, non-threatening way. The young manager then said, “Well, could we call it a help form?” I said yes. Other than your organization’s HR procedures disallowing an additional form, why couldn’t a help form be used?

Help form

Team Member [Print] __________________Coach ____________________________

Team Member X_______________________ Date____________________________

  1.  Focus _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  2.  Expectations___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  3.  Actions __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  4.  Consequences __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  5.  Comments_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Sandwich Method

The sandwich is a method of one on one critique. The purpose of using the sandwich is to give constructive criticism without causing the employee to become defensive, angry, or close-minded. When I was introduced to this method years ago, frankly I considered it some sort of trick to be used against employees. If it’s honest and coming from help, it’s not a trick.  You must honestly begin with sharing what you respect about the team member. It has to be real or don’t use it. The first slice of bread should be a character trait that you truly appreciate about that person. It could be their dependability, hard work, dedication, enthusiasm, diligence, responsibility etc.

What if there is nothing you appreciate about the individual? You may not know them well enough to complete the critique, so consider spending time to get to know them or having someone else complete the critique. And if you know them and their work but can’t find anything you appreciate about them, why are they working with you?

The meat is the critique. The critique should be specific. It should be about observable behavior or objective criteria not about personality, and should include what is expected, and the actions needed to accomplish this. It also should include a commitment from the employee to change this behavior.

The bottom slice of bread should again be something you appreciate about the employee or as simple as asking them if they know why you are “going over” this with them. Their answer should be to help them.


I appreciate the commitment to improve that you have demonstrated by reading this blog. However, if you don’t use the information, you’ve wasted time. Do you understand why I am saying this to you? (Okay, I’m having a little fun.)

By using the sandwich method on every critique, you will develop a workforce that is more responsive to “doing it your way”. And when you have more employees on board with you, your job becomes less daunting.

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. I’m also available to conduct training.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash