THE BUSINESS BOOMER – #9 – Suspension Of Pay… Unprofessional “Spanking”

“Okay, so let me get this straight… because I had a lapse in judgement you are going to teach me a lesson by suspending me for a week, because either I messed up or one of my subordinates messed up in my absence, thus forcing my work peers to take on my workload and placing me in a personal financial bind, not to mention the sour attitude I might have when I return to work?”  That’s an awful lot of vindictiveness at the company‘s expense.  What’s the real message here?

Bottom line, a work suspension for disciplinary reasons favors no one and likely has little to do with corrective discipline in the end anyway.  To me it’s an unprofessional display on the part of a company who chooses this route with any employee.  Why, you ask?

Well, there’s two disciplinary directions any company can take regarding making the employee hurt in the pocketbook.  The obvious one is termination; loss of job, loss of income.  The second is suspension without pay; a punitive action.  Termination is “awarded” to an employee typically when they demonstrate poor performance that can’t be corrected or commit some manner of gross insubordination.  Suspension of pay is given… well, likely for the same reasons, albeit to a lesser degree perhaps.  But you might add to that list the somewhat ambiguous conduct unbecoming, the old military term used in civilian life for employee conduct that might violate certain company ethics, like relating to public image, for example.

The idea of suspension of pay came about more or less as a result of collective bargaining agreements and the establishing of disciplinary and grievance processes.  Over time it seems to have settled more with salaried employees… management usually.  Fortunately suspension without pay as a punitive measure is not often used.  But I did work for a national corporation, SCI Corporation (chain of Dignity brand funeral homes), who did seem to utilize this form of punishment fairly regularly.  Generally speaking suspension of pay might be utilized for certain performance failures on the local level.  During my employ with that corporation there wasn’t much done in the area of common administrative write-ups but we heard via the rumor mill of employees, salaried management usually, being docked pay for infringments that might otherwise be verbal or written disciplinary action in other venues.  Keep in mind that these disciplinary actions were not always regarding flagrant violations of company policies but could be the result of service errors in the performance of funerals or making family arrangements.  If a particular family complained or brought a lawsuit for some impropriety which might result in an investigation that showed a level of employee carelessness, it was not uncommon for a suspension of pay to be levied against the location manager for an infraction made by a subordinate.

So what is the message that’s being sent to an employee when a suspension of pay is levied against them?  Well, it’s a variation of the old fashioned spanking.  It says, “You, Mr. Employee, have messed up… either directly or through one of your subordinates and by God, we are going make sure you don’t do it again by taking away your money.”  Well, that might be the message that the company wants to convey but in the real world that employee is thinking, “How am I going to make the mortgage payment?  The car payment?  How am I going to explain this to my family?  This isn’t all my fault.”  The employee has financial obligations, and likely a family, that depends on regular paychecks.  When you mess with an employee’s pay you are messing with their lives.  You’ve also struck at the employee’s self-esteem.  What kind of employee is likely going to return to work after this kind of disciplinary action?

Keeping employees on the straight and narrow is the job of management.  If an employee is unable to conform to the work requirements and is does not have the presence of mind or attitude or desire to conform, then termination is always an option.  But if you still value an employee following some policy infringment then why strip that employee of professional dignity and personal financial ability just to prove a point?  There are other ways to “correct” employee issues… management ways.  Suspension without pay is just a cop out on the part of management.


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