Imposing Disciplinary Sanctions on Employees

Alexandra Bludyan

Maintaining labor discipline and controlling the quality of work performed by employees is one of the most important goals of any employer. Without question, how well an employee performs his or her duties will depend on the employee’s personal qualities, attitude toward work and feeling of responsibility for the products of his or her labor. However, the employer has powerful levers available for motivating employees to work efficiently, such as incentives for conscientious work and punishment for failure to perform the assigned job duties. In this article, we will be examining the legal aspects of the latter.

The grounds for imposing disciplinary sanctions is when an employee commits a disciplinary infraction (fails to fulfill assigned job duties or fulfills them improperly by his or her own fault), which may take various forms ranging from lateness to failure to perform the direct duties stated in the employee’s job description. In order to determine whether disciplinary sanctions may be imposed on an employee for the omission/commission of certain acts, the employer needs to determine whether the employee has breached his or her job duties as stated in the employment contract or job description, or by in-house regulations of the employer.

Pursuant to the labor law, for the commission of a disciplinary infraction the employer is entitled to subject the employee to disciplinary action in the form of a demerit, reprimand or dismissal. As a general rule, no other disciplinary sanctions may be imposed.

Dismissal is the disciplinary measure of last resort and is applicable strictly in the cases contemplated by law. Thus, dismissal is available in the case of the employee’s one-time commission of a gross breach of duties, in particular, unauthorized absence, appearing at work in a state of alcoholic, drug, or other intoxication, disclosure of a legally protected secret of which the employee has become aware in connection with performing his or her job duties, including disclosure of another employee’s personal data, theft (including petty theft) of someone else’s property at the work place, and so forth. Dismissal is also available in the case of the employee’s repeated breach of duties without good cause, if the employee has already been subject to disciplinary action, i.e. there has already been an official demerit or reprimand. Separate grounds for dismissal for the commission of disciplinary infractions are established for general directors, their deputies, chief accountants, and the heads of representative offices and branch managers.

Using dismissal as a disciplinary measure requires special care and attention by the employer. In the majority of cases, employees will challenge the legality of their dismissal on “culpable” grounds in court. Recognition of a dismissal as unlawful will result in the employee being reinstated to work, receiving pay for the period of forced absence, being awarded compensation for moral damages, etc.

When selecting a disciplinary measure, it is necessary to recall that the court, when considering a case on challenging a disciplinary action or on reinstatement to work, will be guided by the general principles of legal responsibility, such as fairness, equality, proportionality, legality, guilt and humanity. Therefore, the employer will need to present evidence showing not only that the employee has committed a disciplinary infraction, but also that the action taken accounted for the severity of the infraction and the circumstances under which it was committed, along with the employee’s previous conduct and attitude toward work. If during the consideration of a case for reinstatement to work the court comes to the conclusion that the infraction actually took place, but that the dismissal was effected without consideration for the aforementioned circumstances, a claim for reinstatement to work may be successful.

Applicable laws contemplate a specific procedure for disciplinary actions, the violation of which may entail the lifting of the imposed disciplinary sanction or reinstatement of the employee to work (in case of disciplinary action in the form of dismissal). In particular, it is necessary to take into account that the disciplinary action is to be applied not more than one month after the infraction is discovered and not more than six months after the infraction is committed. The said one-month period does not include time when the employee is absent from work owing to illness or vacation.

From a legal perspective, imposing disciplinary sanctions on employees is a complicated process, and is frequently challenged in the courts. Under certain circumstances, violating the rules for imposing disciplinary sanctions may entail adverse consequences for the employer company. Therefore, when disciplining their employees, employers should carefully follow statutory requirements and take into account the available court practice.