Canada: Tips For Employers On Carrying Out Effective Discipline

When employees fail to adhere to the reasonable standards of behaviour expected by employers, one response is to take disciplinary measures. While it is certainly possible — and appropriate in some circumstances — to combine discipline with performance management, in fact, discipline and performance management are distinct.

Employers should not issue discipline for non-culpable behaviour, and as such, employers would not find a proper rationale for discipline in an inability to perform the job related to an illness, disability, or lack of training.

Discipline – Purpose and Behaviours Requiring it

Discipline in the workplace serves a specific purpose, i.e., on the one hand, to correct behaviour on an individual level, and on the other, to reinforce expectations and standards on a general level, specifically in the context of certain behaviours and conduct that require it. Below are three typical examples.

First, an employer may be required to respond with discipline to attendance issues, that is, where absenteeism is not accompanied by a reasonable excuse. This reasonable excuse will depend on context, e.g., legitimate illness.

Second, discipline may be required in the context of sub-standard work product or work performance. Examples include missing deadlines or very poor quality of work. Before issuing discipline on these grounds, it is best to ensure that the proper resources are available and that proper training has been provided. Once that is cleared, employers may want to pair disciplinary and performance management responses.

Third, employers can respond to specific "bad conduct" with discipline. Bad conduct could consist of recklessness that causes injury or loss, or it could be more direct, taking the form of theft or dishonesty, disclosure of confidential information, unlawful acts on company property or when an employee is representing the company, conduct towards management or to other employees, or violation of company policies and procedures.

The Employer's Investigation

When an employer suspects the need to intervene with effective discipline in order to correct such behaviour, the best place to start is with an appropriate investigation. The purpose of this investigation is to ultimately conclude whether it is more likely than not that the employee engaged in behaviour that warrants discipline. The following steps should be taken in order to achieve that purpose:

  • Policy requirements. What are they vis-à-vis this employee? Were they properly communicated? Were they understood?
  • Past correction of inappropriate conduct. Is this the first incident of such behaviour? Was correction given in the past?
  • Training. Was the employee appropriately trained at the outset of employment relationship? Is there a requirement for any re-training?
  • Witnesses. Who has witnessed the behaviour? Have they been consulted? What is their knowledge of the matter? Has the veracity of the information provided by the witnesses been confirmed?
  • Union representatives. Is this a unionized context? Are there any obligations under the collective agreement that require involvement of a union representative?
  • Criminal issues. Is the behaviour suspected to cross into the criminal realm? If so, then legal counsel should be consulted before meeting with any witnesses.
  • Document preservation. Are there documents that are relevant to the behaviour and the eventual disciplinary next steps? From whom should these documents be obtained? Did any leads come from the information provided by the witnesses?

The Appropriate Penalty

Having established that the conduct warrants discipline, the next step consists of determining the appropriate penalty. Disciplinary measures will typically follow a progressive pattern (i.e., verbal warning, written warning, suspension of varying lengths, demotion, and finally discharge or termination of employment.) That being so, not every instance requires a progression of discipline. Usually, the severity of the discipline will be significantly influenced by the severity of the conduct.

However, there are several factors that should be considered when determining the appropriate penalty:

  • Seriousness of the conduct. Was the conduct wilful? It is often the case that deliberate actions require stricter discipline than careless actions.
  • Consequences. What is the nature of the harm or damage that has resulted, or may result, from the bad conduct? The more severe the consequences, the more severe the discipline should be. Although the focus is on the conduct, the strength of the employer's position is typically reinforced where actual consequences have resulted (as opposed to theoretical consequences).
  • Length of service. How long has the employee been with the employer? The length of service may impact the appropriate level of discipline, particularly in discharge cases.
  • Past record. Does the employee have a disciplinary record? What discipline was imposed? The principal intention of discipline is to correct the behaviour. For that reason, penalties should be progressive/increase in severity. If the conduct in question is similar or directly related to past bad conduct, then the penalty should be increased.
  • Employer-employee relationship. Are there any specific details to consider; for instance, that the employee held a position of trust in the organization?
  • Company rules / collective agreements. Do either of these speak explicitly to the appropriate penalty on similar facts? What has been the organization's past practice in response to analogous conduct? Consistency of punishment is a very important principle when it comes time for an employer to defend the discipline that was imposed. It also promotes certainty and a sense of fairness in the workplace.
  • Employer's potential role. Did the employer play a role in the situation? Was the employee appropriately supervised? Was such behaviour in any way condoned previously? Was there any failure to warn employees that this type of behaviour is inappropriate? The presence of these factors can require a reduced penalty, or may even exculpate the employee from discipline.

Delivering the Discipline

Delivery of the discipline should consist of a letter and a meeting with the employee, both of which have the purpose of explaining the decision that has been made. The communication should include:

  • the conclusion resulting from the investigation regarding the behaviour in question;
  • reference to any relevant rules, policies or provisions in a collective agreement;
  • a statement of the penalty imposed;
  • a warning of subsequent discipline in the event of future inappropriate conduct;
  • suggestions for how the employee can improve; and
  • information regarding available resources to assist with preventing a recurrence.

Lessons for Employers:

One of the most important steps in administering effective discipline is to consider both whether you have the facts correct, and whether you can establish those facts with appropriate evidence. Whether it is in a unionized context through a grievance, or in a non-union context as a result of litigation, an employer can easily find itself in the position of having to prove and justify the discipline taken, and to prove the foundation for that discipline on a balance of probabilities. In other words, the employer will have to establish that it is more likely than not that the facts occurred in the manner in which the employer believes. It is very important that the road to discipline starts with an effort to ascertain, as much as possible, the true facts of the matter with an appropriate investigation, and then with a careful consideration of the appropriate penalty and effective delivery of the discipline to the employee.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.