Documenting Discipline-Related Meetings

Getting the employee’s side of the story is an important first step in a possible disciplinary action. Here are tips for a federal manager or supervisor on how to prepare for and conduct a meeting on this touchy subject.

I hate meetings. Most of my career I tried to avoid them if at all possible. I believe that gatherings the purported purpose of which is to share information frequently turn into someone’s opportunity to kiss up to the boss, tell everyone that they are important or otherwise waste time. If you are going to hold one, there are a couple of points to remember. Managers call meetings, everyone else requests them. Managers decide the agenda, who participates, how long it lasts and most important of all when it’s over.

Having said that some meetings are necessary and this article is about one of them. I’ll call it the “what the #@$& happened?” meeting. In this meeting you are going to deal with an allegation or appearance of misconduct by someone you supervise. These meetings are never easy but if structured and prepared properly can accomplish their goal with a minimum of pain. The goal – get the employee’s side of the story.

As I’ve said in previous articles, most managers are not crack interrogators as seen on the “Law & Order” TV series. In fact, most managers would rather take a whuppin’ than conduct an investigative meeting with a subordinate. So where do you start?

Thoroughly Prepare for the Meeting

Identify what you know or nail down clearly what you’ve been told. Who, where, what, when, etc. Make a list of questions requiring an answer from the employee. Questions should focus on facts first and when you have the facts, you may then move on to questions addressing why something happened or what would the employee do if the situation was reversed.

Invite the Employee to the Meeting in Writing

There are no secrets here. The purpose of putting it in writing is to make clear why you want to meet with the person. Let’s call this a Pre-Meeting Memorandum. (Here is a sample of a Pre-Meeting Memo.) While I wouldn’t disclose the source of my knowledge at this point, let the employee know what’s been alleged so he can deal with the allegation by providing either new facts or an explanation.

Anticipate Employee Actions

If the employee is represented by a union, expect him to invite a union representative to the meeting. If you expect union participation, reread the collective bargaining agreement and have a talk with your labor relations advisor about how this kind of meetings generally goes at your agency. If the labor advisor tells you these meetings are often contentious or that the representatives are argumentative, ask your advisor to join you at the meeting. Employees are only entitled to a “union” representative, no one else – – not attorneys, not co-workers, not witnesses at this point.

Follow Your Plan

This is your meeting to hear the employee’s version of the facts. Keep it that way. Don’t engage in discussions of unrelated topics. Don’t express an opinion. Don’t counsel or advise at this point, there will be time for that after you’ve considered what the employee has to say, other facts that may come to your attention, the rules and what your advisors have to contribute.

The Most Important Thing

This is a listening meeting for you not a telling meeting. Get an answer to your questions. Even if what the employee says is preposterous, unbelievable or even silly. What’s important is to get the employee’s side of the story. I’ve had managers ask me, “What if I know he’s lying?”. My answer is it’s the employee’s story to tell not yours. If the employee wants to put forth alleged facts that are patently untrue, we must assume he has a reason after all he’s an adult. Children are not eligible for Federal appointment. Fools might be.

Carefully Document the Meeting

Take your time. Identify everyone present or involved by full name and title. Write the provided answers to your questions of who, what, when, where, and why (include date, time, exact location, and other pertinent details). Document what the employee stated or alleged as an explanation. Document exact quotations, if possible, and use quotation marks when quoting precisely what was said.

Ending the Meeting

Remember, your purpose here is to get facts and an explanation so once you think you have the relevant information, you should ask one last question, “Is there anything else I need to know about this matter? If not, send the attendees back to work. As a matter of fact, the final words of any management meeting should be, “And you can go back to work now.”

After the Meeting

Put together a memorandum to the employee specifying what was said in the meeting and offering the employee an opportunity to add to or clarify anything said at the meeting. We’re not playing “GOTCHA” here just trying to find out what happened.

This meeting, done correctly, forms the basis for your next step whether that will be further investigation, initiating an action or if the facts warrant, doing nothing at all. There a number of things that can complicate one of these meetings such as pending discrimination allegations, employee whistleblower allegations, allegations of criminal misconduct but those are for another article or two or three. Hope this helps.

As always the opinions expressed in these scribblings are mine and mine alone.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.