Columbia College expects all employees to be aware of and to follow applicable policies and rules to help ensure the well-being of students, faculty, staff, and visitors and to support productive and efficient College operations. In addition to College-wide policies and rules, there may be additional policies and rules specific to a College department and division. The College expects all of its employees in the performance of their job duties to comply with all institutional requirements as well as the requirements of federal, state and local laws, external regulatory entities and accreditors.
This policy sets forth the process for addressing and providing an opportunity to correct single and repeat instances of failure to comply with applicable policies and rules and/or failure to meet specific workplace expectations for behavior and conduct. Failure to comply with policies and rules and unacceptable behavior and conduct may be addressed pursuant to this policy and/or under the Employee Performance Management Policy (which is largely aimed at addressing job performance related issues) depending the nature of the specific circumstances of each situation.
This policy applies to all College employees.
There may be occasions where employee behavior violates a policy or rule or otherwise falls below the level of acceptable conduct the College reasonably expects from its employees. In these instances, the College utilizes a system of progressive discipline designed to modify and offer an opportunity to correct the unacceptable behavior. However, there may be some instances where a higher level of discipline, or even termination of employment, may result based on the severity and circumstances of a situation.
Examples of Conduct Covered by this Policy
Any type of behavior or conduct that impedes the efficient operation of the College, reflects adversely on the College, is contrary to the College’s policies or rules, or falls below the level of acceptable conduct expected by the College in its discretion, is prohibited. The College expects employees to exercise sound judgment and discretion while performing their job duties. Below are examples of conduct covered by this policy that may result in discipline (this is a non-exhaustive list as it is impossible to contemplate every conceivable action or scenario that may result in discipline):
- unexcused absenteeism or nonattendance
- conduct that violates the College’s policies, rules or standards of conduct
- conduct that violates federal, state or local laws, or applicable rules, regulations or guidance of external entities applicable to College operations
- misuse of fiscal resources or unlawful taking of College property
- unauthorized disclosure of confidential information
Progressive Discipline Process
It is the College’s belief that a majority of issues are able to be adequately addressed at the informal stage by a supervisor having a conversation and discussing the concerns with an employee. However, in the event an informal conversation is unsuccessful in resolving the concerns or if an informal conversation is inappropriate, progressive discipline consistent with this policy should follow.
Progressive discipline assists employees by being clear and precise about problems and the consequences if the same or other problems or misconduct occur. The College applies discipline in a fair and consistent manner.
In most instances, supervisors are responsible for initiating the progressive discipline process and play a critical role in administering discipline in a fair and consistent manner. The supervisor must have a full understanding of the facts and circumstances before assessing appropriate discipline. The supervisor should discuss each disciplinary situation in advance with the Human Resources Department to determine the appropriate level of disciplinary action. The seriousness of the offense and the employee's disciplinary and performance history will be considered when determining the level of discipline to be applied.
It is the College’s hope that a majority of situations will likely be able to be resolved through an informal conversation or discussion between the supervisor and the employee. However, progressive discipline is available if informal conversations are unsuccessful or inappropriate given the nature of the situation.
Step 1 - Verbal Warning
The purpose of a verbal warning is to clarify policies, rules and expectations. The impact of the incident or violation should also be taken into consideration as should ensuring that prior similar occurrences were treated similarly.
Prior to issuing a verbal warning, supervisors are responsible for conducting a fair and objective assessment of the situation. The assessment may be as simple as confirming an unexcused late arrival or early departure through a time clock or confirming an employee made an unauthorized purchase. As a general matter at this step in the process, the supervisor should review and obtain available information; identify the specific policy, rule or expectation that was violated; review how the employee was made aware of the policy, rule or expectation that was violated; and have a conversation with the employee about the situation to hear their explanation and determine if any extenuating or mitigating circumstances exist.
After the supervisor has taken the above steps and confirmed with the Human Resources Department that the situation warrants a verbal warning, the supervisor should meet with the employee and deliver the verbal warning. The supervisor should then document for their records that the conversation occurred, what was said, and, if appropriate, send a follow-up email to the employee summarizing the meeting and the situation, keeping in mind the significance of the impact of the occurrence.
Step 2 - Written Warning
If the conduct addressed by a verbal warning is repeated or if new violations or problems occur, the employee may be issued a written warning. However, it is also possible that a single incident may warrant a written warning based on the seriousness or severity of the situation.
In each instance, the first step in the written warning process if for the supervisor to contact and discuss the situation with the Human Resources Department.
Prior to issuing a written warning, the Human Resources Department will typically assist with conducting an investigation and assessment of the situation, which generally includes obtaining and reviewing all relevant information; identifying the specific policy, rule or expectation that was violated; reviewing how the employee was made aware of the policy, rule or expectation that was violated; talking with possible witnesses; and having a meeting with the employee about the situation to hear their explanation and determine if any extenuating or mitigating circumstances exist prior to making a disciplinary decision. Some situations may warrant a more complex investigation to be undertaken, which shall be conducted in coordination with the Human Resources Department (and other institutional office(s), as needed).
Supervisors should not conduct their own investigation or issue a written warning without first consulting with the Human Resources Department. The Human Resources Department maintains the most up-to-date version of the formal written warning template, in part, to help ensure consistency with discipline College-wide.
If a determination is made that a formal written warning is appropriate, the supervisor shall work with the Human Resources Department to prepare a written warning, which generally includes a description of the unacceptable conduct, the policy, rule or expectation violated, and an outline of future expectations.
All written warnings need to be approved by the Human Resources Department before they are issued to an employee. A copy of the written warning shall be maintained by the Human Resources Department.
Step 3 - Final Written Warning
If the conduct addressed in the written warning is repeated or if new violations or problems occur, discipline may progress to a final written warning. However, a single incident may be so severe as to merit an immediate final written warning.
Supervisors shall contact the Human Resources Department if they believe a situation may warrant a final written warning. A similar investigation/assessment process as set forth in the written warning section above will be followed. In some instances, a suspension from work, with or without pay, may accompany a final written warning.
If a determination is made that a final written warning is appropriate, the supervisor shall work with the Human Resources Department to prepare the final written warning, which generally includes a description of the unacceptable conduct, the policy, rule or expectation violated, and an outline of future expectations.
All final written warnings need to be approved by the Human Resources Department before they are issued to an employee. A copy of the final written warning shall be maintained by the Human Resources Department.
Step 4 - Termination of Employment
Employment may be terminated if progressive discipline has been exhausted and problems persist or based on the severity of a single incident.
Misconduct that involves dishonesty, a violation of the law, significant risks to College operations or those that endanger the safety or wellbeing of oneself or others is grounds for immediate termination of employment. However, the facts and circumstances of each situation will determine what action, up to and including termination of employment, is appropriate. Decisions to terminate employment shall be made in consultation with Human Resources and will generally follow the assessment/investigation process described above.
Examples of misconduct that may warrant termination include, but are not limited to: violations of College policy or rules (such as nondiscrimination, anti-harassment, non-retaliation policy and drugs and alcohol policy), violence or threats of violence in the workplace, serious neglect of job duties, insubordination, dishonesty, falsification of records, breach of confidentiality, criminal activity, violations of laws, rules or regulations applicable to the College.
Situations may arise where an employee’s conduct and performance falls under both the Employee Disciplinary Action Policy and Employee Performance Management Policy. In these situations, the totality of the circumstances will be assessed when determining appropriate action.