Section 500, Proc. 525
To provide guidance to supervisors in the management of personnel who are not performing up to the standards established by the university and/or the department.
Who is affected:
All regular exempt and non-exempt employees.
1. Rights of Employees and the University
The University of Tennessee is a State of Tennessee entity and as such is an at-will employer.
2. Corrective Action
When it is evident that an employee is not performing up to standards, supervisors need to take corrective action. The extent of the corrective action will be determined by the seriousness of the situation. The corrective action could be a verbal warning, up to and including, termination. An example of instances which require immediate termination include, but is not limited to, theft or dishonesty, gross insubordination, destruction of university property, falsification of university records, acts of moral turpitude, violation of the Drug & Alcohol Abuse policy, disorderly conduct, and any other act for which the employee’s continued employment is deemed not in the best interest of the university.
I. INADEQUATE WORK PERFORMANCE
Progressive Corrective Action. Supervisors must use a progressive approach to performance improvement. Such an approach typically calls for: (1) a verbal warning and request for improvement; (2) a written warning; and (3) a final written warning. If the employee’s behavior is not corrected following the final written warning, termination will result.
Progressive corrective action is typically a five-step process, when the unacceptable behavior is symptomatic of correctable behavior. This is a suggested approach; however, if the situation warrants, the supervisor, in consultation with HR, may skip one or more of these steps. Prior to beginning the corrective action process, HR must be consulted. The five steps include: (1) a formal oral warning; (2) a formal written warning, (3) a formal final warning, (4) a pre-termination hearing; and (5) termination. Employees being disciplined for poor performance should be given a minimum of 30 days to correct and/or improve the performance before the next phase of corrective action is pursued. However, if an egregious infraction occurs before the end of 30 days, the next step in the disciplinary process may be taken. Each step in the disciplinary process is effective for 12 calendar months. If another incident of the type noted in the warning occurs within 12 months, disciplinary action may be elevated to the next step. If the employee improves their performance and remains free of disciplinary issues for 12 or more months, a new disciplinary action process must begin should the employee’s performance relapse.
The five steps in the disciplinary process are as follows:
- Oral Warning. Supervisors issuing a verbal warning and request for performance improvement should document the warning. This record is kept in the department’s files, and a copy is given to the employee. Supervisors should be specific when giving verbal warnings, and should include how the performance or behavior falls short of expectations, what corrections must be made, and the consequences if the employee fails to take the corrective action requested. If the performance does not improve, then a written warning follows.
- Written Warning. As with the verbal warning, the written warning should document the specific performance deficiencies, steps necessary to correct the deficiencies, and the consequences of failing to correct the behaviors. The formal written warning is given to an employee whose response to a verbal warning has been insufficient. Supervisors must work with a representative of Human Resources when preparing written warnings. A copy of this and any other written warnings is kept in the department, provided to Human Resources for inclusion in the employee’s personnel file, and a copy must be given to the employee.
- Final Written Warning. If the unacceptable performance or misconduct continues or recurs, the supervisor will consult with a representative of Human Resources prior to issuing a final written warning. The warning must give a specific deadline for meeting the standards of performance or taking corrective action must be given, and must inform the employee that failure to improve to the required standard by the deadline will result in termination. A copy of the final written warning must be kept in the department files, with a copy to the dean or director, to Human Resources, and to the employee. If, after the issuance of the final written warning, the employee’s performance still fails to meet expectations, termination is the next step. However, prior to termination, the employee must be provided an opportunity to hear the reason(s) for termination by the university. Between the time the unit decides termination is necessary and the actual pre-termination meeting is conducted, the employee will be placed on paid administrative leave while the department documents its rationale.
- Pre-termination Hearing. The pre-termination meeting is conducted under the direction of the Human Resources department. At the hearing, the department delineates its reasons for considering termination of the employee. The employee, who can be accompanied by an Employee Relations representative if desired, will be given time to present evidence to address the department’s points. Upon completion of the hearing, the department, in consultation with Human Resources, will make a decision regarding the employee’s future employment with the university.
- Termination. If termination is decided upon, the employee will receive written notification of the action being taken, the reasons leading to the action, the date the action will occur, and what steps should be followed if they decide to appeal the termination.
II. GROSS MISCONDUCT
- Definition. Gross misconduct refers to acts or omissions on the part of employees which are symptomatic of intolerable behavior. Gross misconduct includes the following: theft or dishonesty; gross insubordination; willful destruction of university property; falsification of records; acts of moral turpitude; reporting for duty under the influence of intoxicants; the illegal use, manufacturing, possessing, distributing, purchasing or dispensing of controlled substances or alcohol; disorderly conduct; provoking a fight; and other similar acts involving intolerable behavior by the employee. In the event of gross misconduct, the employee may be placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. Human Resources must be notified immediately.
When a theft, shortage, or questionable loss of university funds or property has occurred and an employee is suspected, Audit and Consulting Services must be contacted immediately and the employee will be placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation. Audit and Consulting Services, along with UT Police as needed, will investigate the situation and, if gross misconduct is confirmed, the employee will be terminated. The employee should be notified of the charge and supporting evidence, and be given the opportunity to respond to the termination.
- Pre-termination Hearing. The pre-termination meeting is conducted under the direction of the Human Resources department. At the meeting, the department delineates its reasons for considering termination of the employee. The employee, who may be accompanied by an Employee Relations representative if desired, will be given time to present evidence to address the department’s points. Upon completion of the meeting, the department, in consultation with Human Resources, will make a decision regarding the employee’s future employment with the university. If the investigation identifies a less severe infraction on the employee’s part, other disciplinary action may result.
- Termination. If termination is decided upon, the employee will receive written notification of the action being taken, the reasons leading to the action, the date the action will occur, and what steps the former employee should follow if they wish to appeal the termination.
The appeal process for termination or discharge is set out in HR Policy 0525.