Owning a business in California takes more than just providing a product or service and making a profit. If you hire employees, you need to understand the laws governing the workplace, especially when it comes to discipline. Issuing a write up to an employee is a way to correct poor behavior or performance. Therefore, if you operate in California, you should know the laws regarding write ups at the workplace.
California Employment and Termination Laws
California employees are considered at will, according to the California labor code. Therefore, they may be fired at any time for any reason, if no verbal or written employment contract exists. Exceptions to the law include terminations due to illegal employer actions, such as discrimination or criminal activity. Even with the ability to do so, employers may not take advantage of the law because firing employees for absolutely no cause does not make economical sense, since the hiring and training processes can be costly in the state.
In most cases, when you have an under-performing employee, a supervisor should provide direction for improvement before more severe action is taken.
Progressive Discipline of Employees
Employers must be careful not to void their at-will relationships with their employees. However, they also may not want to fire employees if performance can be improved with disciplinary action. The success of progressive discipline can determine if an employee may be helped before proceeding to the termination process.
Start with oral communication with the employee to fix the behavior. If it continues, administer a written counseling or warning. Advance to a less than satisfactory performance report and then suspension or termination, when necessary. Always document all actions with the employee, including those in verbal form.
If an employee's behavior is egregious in nature, such as theft or other serious misconduct, immediate termination may be warranted. Once you establish a precedent for dealing with poor performance or minor acts of misconduct, you will be obligated by law to treat all present and future employees in the same situation with similar consequences.
Using Write Ups in the Workplace
A write up can be used as varying forms and levels of discipline. A written counseling is less serious than a written warning. You may start with the counseling and advance if improvement is not noted, or, if the situation warrants it, give the employee a severe form of written discipline from the start. Your write up should include the employees name and position and the date that it is administered.
The body of the write up must have details of the unacceptable action accompanied by dates of occurrence. Include a section that specifies the expected behavior, advice on how and by when to accomplish it and consequences if no improvement is noted. Have the employee sign any written discipline to acknowledge receipt, not agreement, of the document.
Related Employment Law in California
Unemployment benefits in California are paid for through employer taxes. California unemployment insurance law is related to its employment law due to the eligibility requirements. Employees may be approved to receive unemployment benefits if they lose their job for a reason that is not their fault, such as a lay off or incompetence. If you terminate an employee without evidence of cause or misconduct, benefits may be allowed and your employer tax rate for unemployment insurance can rise.
Therefore, written documentation of an employee's misconduct is necessary when presenting your position to the California unemployment office.
- The Law at Work; The Pros and Cons of Progressive Discipline; Brett T. Abbott; 2009
- State of California Employment Development Department: Eligibility
- California Employment Law Report: Five misunderstandings about disciplining employees
- BLR: California Discipline: What you need to know
- CalChamber: California Employment Law Overview