Key considerations

Just cause

“Just cause” is a set of criteria that helps protect employees from unfair and unjust decisions. It is also used in arbitration to determine whether a supervisor took appropriate disciplinary steps. In cases of employee misconduct, a fair and thorough investigation is needed to establish “just cause.”

Download or print detailed information on Just Cause.

Due Process Protection for Public Employees

The legal protections given to most public employees in cases of discharge or discipline are referred to as “due process.” The United States constitution says that the government cannot deprive a person of property without due process of law. The due process rights of public employees are based on the idea that we have “property interests” in our jobs. The City of Madison’s disciplinary process ensures that the due process protections of employees are met. Supervisors must follow the process exactly to issue enforceable discipline.

Trauma-Informed Supervision

Disciplinary processes can be traumatic for employees or act as a trigger or reminder of personal trauma. This is especially true if an employee’s personal trauma involves feelings of rejection, being threatened, surveillance, or powerlessness in interactions with authority figures.

Supervisors should refer employees to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and apply principles of Trauma-Informed Supervision in every step of the disciplinary process. In particular, they should focus on the principle of Safety. Strategies include:

  • Clear communication and active listening.
  • Following the disciplinary process exactly. This includes scheduling meetings in advance, being clear about the purpose fo the meeting, process and next steps, and being timely in any follow-up.
  • Addressing employees with calmness and respect, and avoiding sarcasm or condescension.
  • Not making assumptions about what happened or an employee’s intentions.
  • Being mindful of the location and size of physical spaces and positioning. (A neutral, private location and giving employees the seat closest to an exit is recommended.)

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can consult supervisors on being trauma-informed in their interactions with staff.

Employees on Probation

The process for new employees who are on probation is different. It does not include pre-determination meetings and other steps below. Contact HR- Labor Relations if there are misconduct or performance issues with a new employee who is still in their probationary period.

Disciplinary Process

  1. Gather Facts, Documents, and Information

    Supervisors must have documented facts to support the disciplinary process. Examples of documentation could include:

    Records gathered or received by a supervisor (time cards, emails, call logs, etc.)

  2. Schedule a Pre-Determination Meeting and Notify the Employee

    A pre-determination meeting is required before any discipline is issued to an employee, unless they are on probation. Written notice must be given to the affected employee that includes:

    • The date, time, location and purpose of the meeting
    • A brief and concise statement of the allegations and potential work rules violated
    • A statement that the employee may be represented if they choose
    • Employee Assistance Program information. 

    This Sample Pre-Determination Meeting Notice can be used as a template.

    Arrangements should also be made for another supervisor to be present at the meeting to observe and take notes.

  3. Hold a Pre-Determination Meeting

    The pre-determination meeting is an opportunity for an employee to respond to any allegations of misconduct.

    Read detailed information about Pre-Determination Meetings.

  4. Make a Disciplinary Decision

    The final determination is based on all of the information gathered in the misconduct investigation and disciplinary process. It is important to remember that the purpose of discipline is not to shame or punish, but to correct behavior.  The City of Madison follows a progressive disciplinary model. 

    Read detailed information about progressive discipline.

  5. Give Written Notice of Corrective Action

    Corrective action may be a letter of instruction (which is not disciplinary), or issuing discipline. Required training can also be part of the corrective action. 

    Download or print detailed information and a checklist for written disciplinary notices.

  6. Follow-up

    Follow-up may include additional referral to EAP, mediation between employees, or periodic check-ins with the employee who engaged in misconduct.  Consult with Human Resources for more information on follow-up. You can also consult with the Employee Assistance Program on ways to support employees who were involved or affected by an incident.