Bulletproof Employee Discipline & Documentation

Bulletproof Employee Discipline & Documentation

There is a tendency for Dental Business Owners to gloss over the negative aspects, attitudes, and behaviors of their team. We completely understand… you are VERY busy trying to take care of your patients while running a business! You have enough on your plate as it is! So when an employee issue arises, you think to yourself…“it'll work itself out…I don't need to get involved.”

The fact is, as a leader, you are responsible for your employees. Ensuring they are doing their jobs and performing in a way that is respectful, professional and safe. 

Neglecting to address behavior problems or doing so in a haphazard or inconsistent way will lead to larger problems for you and your business in the future.  

Poor morale, reduced employee performance, loss of credibility and respect of your team, loss of talent and increased turnover, legal issues and loss of patients. All of which translates to poor business performance, losing money, sleep, and your sanity!

Did you know that your employee documentation, including write-ups, can be used against you if they are not carefully crafted! The following are 7 ways to ensure you take action in a way that is consistent, compliant and constructive. 


Protected grounds of Human Rights vary by jurisdiction, in general, they include Race, Color, Religion, Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity), National Origin/Ancestry, Disability, Age (40 or older), Genetic information (including family medical history). Additionally, some jurisdictions include criminal convictions and political beliefs as protected grounds as they apply to employment. 

When documenting any employee behavior and associated discipline you must ensure your requirements for employment do not infringe on any protected ground. For example, as an employer, you may enforce a dress code. However, you would not require as a condition of employment, or discipline an individual based on infringement of the dress code, if they hold a religious belief requiring a certain style of dress conflicting with your requirements. 


It is difficult to discipline an individual on a certain requirement if you can not also prove that the individual was informed of and trained on those same requirements. Having an up to date employee handbook provided and available for all employees is a great way to communicate expectations. Providing comprehensive onboarding and training programs also help reinforce what is outlined in your Handbook and strengthen your expectations in a practical and hands-on way. 


Nothing will undermine your credibility more than including false information in a disciplinary letter. So, prior to writing up a Warning Letter you want to ask yourself, Do I have all the facts? Am I confident the information I have is accurate?  

You can collect information from witnesses (peers or patients), if done in a discreet and confidential manner, you can also interview the employee in question to clarify the incident prior to formally writing them up, approaching the situation with an open mind and asking questions to gain further context. Some employers have technology that can provide additional insight and data, security cameras, activity logs in computer programs, screenshots or emails are also useful. 


Back to the facts, when documenting a coaching conversation or making up a warning letter to ensure you clearly outline the facts, date and time of the incident, the behavior or the individual and how they failed to meet expectations as outlined in your Policies, Mission Statement or Company Values. 

DO NOT include any judgemental statements, labels or assumptions on a person’s intent. Avoid generalizing with words like “always or “never” instead be specific. For example, you have noticed that Jessica is frequently late for work.  

Rather than saying: "You are late all the time. You need to stop being so lazy and show up for work early and not late. "

You might say instead: You have had attendance problems over the last three months. Most recently on Friday, July 5, 2019, you did not arrive for work. We also discussed your attendance on July 24, 2018, regarding your late arrival to work on June 23 & 24, 2019.  Our Employee Handbook clearly states you must be at your workstation at 8:00 am ready to work, and you must inform the office before the start of your scheduled shift, providing as much notice as possible, in the event you are ill. 


The objective of discipline is for the individual’s behavior to improve. In order to do this effectively, you must do more than simply point our undesirable behavior. You must help them to achieve better results in future, give them an opportunity to explain any obstacles for improvement, give them support through training or a formal Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), be specific when explaining the desired behaviour, you want to see in future and clearly communicate the consequences for future incidents and lack of improvement. 

When you provide a deadline for improvement or you plan to follow up on a PIP (usually three- or six-month duration) be sure to follow-up as planned. Employees will quickly learn to ignore objectives if they see you do not follow through as planned. 


Often an employer will attach all their “proof” to the formal discipline and add it in the Employee File. This would be a mistake.  

Employees are legally entitled to view the contents of their employee file at any time with their employer. Keeping emails or interview notes with other employees or patients in the Employee file would be a breach of the confidentiality of those individuals. Whether physical or electronic, you should keep your investigation files separate from your employee files. 


It is easier to enforce your policies and expectations once you have established a history of doing so. You will ensure all your employees feel they are treated fairly if they each experience the same outcomes for the same behavior. In legal terms, you are establishing a precedent each time you address an employee’s behavior. This precedent or rule can then be used when deciding outcomes for future situations with similar circumstances. 

In order to do this, keep accurate records. A simple spreadsheet is all you need to track the history of employee incidents, the discipline they received, and your history of progressive discipline over time


If you have an employee with a stellar record of attendance and performance and you see dramatic changes in behavior (sudden or gradual) there may be an underlying issue. You may have an internal culture issue, perhaps they are burning out, or they might have a personal challenge you are unaware of. In these cases, you may consider other steps outside of the formal discipline. Some examples of alternate actions would include: accommodating their temporary needs with a change in schedule or workload, granting them a leave, investigating any internal bullying, or redistributing the workload.   

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