Employee Discipline

Employee Discipline Most employers use various forms of discipline to correct and punish improper behaviors by their employees. However, in New York and New Jersey employment discipline often is used to harass, discriminate, or retaliate against employees in violation of the law.

Forms of Discipline

There are many different forms of discipline that employers use, and different names for the same types of discipline. However, some of the most common forms include:

  • Warnings
    Many employers use written and verbal warnings as forms of discipline. While these generally are relatively minor types of discipline (the proverbial “slap on the wrist”), they can be used to support more serious discipline in the future.
  • Performance Reviews
    In some instances, employers can use negative performance evaluations as a form of discipline. For more information, please see our Performance Evaluations page.
  • Performance Improvement Plans
    Theoretically, a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), also known as a Performance Action Plan, is intended to help under-performing workers address deficiencies in their job performance. However, they are frequently used to help an employer justify taking a more serious action such as demoting, suspending or terminating an employee.
  • Demotions
    Another more severe form of discipline is a demotion to a lower level position. Demotions often come with a decrease in responsibility, compensation or benefits. Depending on the reason for the demotion, like other more severe forms of discipline it can be a legally actionable adverse employment action.
  • Suspensions
    Suspensions are another form of adverse employment action. Suspensions can be for as little as one day, but more often are for many days, weeks or even months. Depending on the circumstances, suspensions can either be paid or unpaid.
  • Termination
    Terminations, of course, are the most severe form of discipline. If you were fired for an illegal reason, you may have a legal claim. More information is available on our wrong termination page.
Rights Under Employment Contracts

Some employment contracts, including union collective bargaining agreements, limit how and when your employer can discipline you. For example, some employment agreements limit the employer’s right to fire you unless there is “good cause” or “just cause” to do so.

Similarly, many employee handbooks include requirements or other limitations on how and when the employer can issue discipline to its employees. However, employee handbooks typically include disclaimers which make it difficult or impossible to legally enforce these policies.

Discriminatory and Retaliatory Discipline

In addition to any contractual rights you might have, the law prohibits employers from using discipline as a way to unlawfully discriminate or retaliate against you.

For example, in both New Jersey and New York it would be a violation of the law for your employer to fire, demote, or take another adverse employment action against you because of your age, race, gender, pregnancy, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, color, religion, marital status, or military status. Likewise, in New Jersey it would be illegal for an employer to discipline you because you objected to or refused to participate in an activity that you reasonably believed was illegal, fraudulent, or criminal.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

If you believe your employer had used discipline in a way that violates your employment law rights, Rabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg can help. You can contact us online or call our law office at (973) 744-4000.