Handling Employee Discipline at Your Health Club

When an employee’s behavior requires corrective action, progressive discipline is crucial.

Thinking about employee management doesn’t exactly get health club operators out of bed in the morning, but, as any human resources professional knows, if you ignore the topic it can cost you dearly in the long run.

Meredith DePersia, vice president of human resources for Active Wellness, LLC, knows this better than most. She is based out of California, which is known as one of the strictest—if not the strictest—U.S. states in terms of employment laws. DePiersia shared her insights on the topic during her IHRSA 2018 session, “Employee Management: The Fundamentals of Support, Handling Grievances & Corrective Action.”

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5 Steps of Progressive Employee Discipline

When an employee’s behavior requires corrective action, DePersia advised that progressive discipline is crucial. Don’t ignore employee problems, she said. Instead, take control of the situation, lean on your company’s policies, and make it clear that you expect improvement.

During her session, DePersia outlined the five steps of progressive discipline, including:

1. Verbal Reprimand

This is appropriate for the first violation. It can be casual, with no formal documentation. Identify the violation and communicate the corrective action. For example, “Hey Joe, you were late today. I really need you to be here on time.” Send yourself an email noting the date/time and the details of the reprimand for future use.

2. Verbal Warning

This is for the second violation and can be semi-formal. For example, “Hey Joe, we’ve talked about it once already, but you were late again today. Is there something going on?”

Listen to the reason for the poor performance. If it’s reasonable, how can you help? (For example, if their bus scheduled changed, they may need their shift to start a few minutes later than in the past.) If not reasonable, review the violation, the corrective action needed, and the next steps in the disciplinary process.

Document the warning, but you don’t need to get the employee’s signature on it. Use the same language for similar counseling to ensure consistent corrective action among different employees.

“Don’t ignore employee problems. Take control of the situation, lean on your company’s policies, and make it clear that you expect improvement.”

3. Written Warning

This is appropriate for the third violation, and can be more formal, such as a sit-down meeting with a written counseling form. Review the previous reprimand/warnings, and maintain a formal record of this written warning, including the employee’s signature. If they refuse to sign, have another manager witness that the employee declined to sign it. Tell the employee you believe they can improve and give them a copy of the written warning.

4. Suspension

This is not common and is generally used only when the employee should be removed from the site pending a final decision. Always consult with your human resources department prior to delivering a suspension order.

5. Termination

Once all appropriate steps of progressive discipline are achieved, termination may be considered. Require next level management or HR approval prior to an involuntary termination. (For more, read our briefing paper on firing an employee.)

Potential Red Flags

Regardless of the step in the disciplinary process, it’s crucial to watch out for red flags, warned DePersia. These include:

  • If the employee has a medical condition that you are aware of that might affect his or her performance;
  • If the employee blew the whistle on bad behavior previously and you are afraid they will think you are retaliating; and
  • If the employee is in a protected class and disciplinary action may appear discriminatory.

IHRSA members can find more employee management advice in our employment law briefing papers.

Author avatar

Kristen Walsh

Kristen Walsh previously served as IHRSA's Associate Publisher—a position focused on the creation and distribution of Club Business International, as well as writing and editing articles, newsletters, and research reports.