December 1, 2011
Staff Disciplinary Practices
Causes for Discipline
Any action by a USC staff employee contrary to the university’s mission, operations or policy may trigger disciplinary action. The availability of progressive discipline does not alter the at-will nature of university staff employment; employment and compensation are at-will and therefore can be terminated, with or without cause, at any time without prior notice, by the university or the employee. In the event of a discrepancy between this policy and a collective bargaining agreement, the terms of the collective bargaining agreement will govern.
Human Resources Administration (HRA) is available to advise departments when staff employee behavior occurs that necessitates discipline; departments must contact HRA prior to initiating a request to terminate. No staff employee may be involuntarily terminated without HRA authorization. (For detailed discipline guidelines for staff, see Appendix A—Staff Disciplinary Procedures.)
Some categories and specific behaviors and actions that may result in discipline and/or termination include, but are not limited to:
Attendance—unauthorized or unapproved absences; failure to follow departmental procedures regarding notification of or requests for leave; habitual tardiness; chronic absenteeism; patterns indicating abuse of leave policy; falsification of timekeeping records; failure to return from approved leaves; job abandonment.
Behavior—unprofessional or unacceptable conduct in the work environment, including inappropriate attire and appearance, and behavior which may adversely affect morale. See Appropriate Attire and Appearance policy.
Confidentiality—breaching confidentiality through unauthorized access, use, release or retention of confidential or proprietary information concerning the university and any affiliated entities, operations or personnel (for example, information and/or records related to payroll, personnel, student, alumni, donor, patient, financial, business, research or teaching), regardless of intent.
Conflict of interest—failure to disclose to employee’s immediate supervisor a situation or proposed activity that may constitute a conflict or potential conflict of interest (for example, participating in any transaction between the university and a business entity in which the employee or his or her relative has a personal or financial interest); supervising or hiring a relative or intimate friend unless such relationship is properly disclosed and managed; accepting employment with a supplier, competitor or any other employer that might impair performance of university duties; accepting gifts from prospective or current suppliers, unless gift is of nominal value (for example, isolated meal invitations); disclosing confidential university information or using such information for personal gain. See Conflict of Interest in Professional and Business Practices and Conflict of Interest in Research policies.
Discrimination or harassment—conduct which constitutes discrimination, harassment or sexual harassment as outlined in the university’s Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Non-Discrimination and Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault policies, including discrimination or harassment based on protected class status, denial of pregnancy or family medical leave, or retaliation related to any of the above; failure to complete mandatory training programs provided by the university.
Dishonesty—providing false, fraudulent or inaccurate information in the course of conducting business, on university documents or during university investigations, audits or complaint processes; making bad faith allegations of wrongdoing, including allegations that are knowingly false, capricious, maliciously motivated or made with reckless disregard for facts.
Drugs and alcohol—inappropriate use or unlawful manufacture, distribution or possession of controlled substances; abuse or misuse of prescribed medication; being under the influence of drugs or alcohol during work hours (the university has the right to take reasonable steps to determine if an employee is working under the influence, including requiring non-invasive testing). Employees with a substance abuse problem are urged to discuss the issue with their supervisor and seek confidential assistance from the Center for Work and Family Life. See USC Drug-Free.
Electronic resources—use of university computing and/or electronic resources to transmit intimidating, harassing, or threatening electronic communication and/or forging electronic communication; unauthorized use of email including unsolicited, junk, chain or unauthorized mass mailings; advertising by external agencies on university websites (except for appropriate acknowledgment of corporate sponsorships); promoting or executing commercial or for-profit endeavors on university webpages; distribution or reproduction, in any digital form, of copyrighted music, video, or other multimedia content without the express written permission of the material’s rightful owner; reproduction of copyrighted materials, trademarks, or other protected material in any digital form without express written permission from the material’s owner; distribution, duplication or use of copyrighted software without appropriate licensing agreements or use of software inconsistent with licensing. See the Information Technology section of the policy site.
Ethics—theft; unfairness; disrespect for the rights and dignity of others; harassing, belittling, harming, bullying or taking advantage of others; or conflicts of interest. See the university Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest in Professional and Business Practices policy.
Gambling—gambling conducted on university property at any time or while on university business regardless of location, or offsite at university-related events.
Government laws and regulations—failure to comply with any federal, state, local or administrative law and/or regulation governing the university.
Insubordination—refusal to follow (or following only after complaining or resisting) a reasonable written or verbal instruction from a supervisor or other university employee with apparent authority, including Department of Public Safety officers in the discharge of their duties.
Investigations—impeding or failing to fully, immediately and truthfully cooperate with any university inquiry or investigation, including investigations of complaints about research misconduct, auditing matters, violence, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, retaliation, or any other matter. Supervisors must also cooperate and may not discourage employee participation in an investigation.
Misappropriation—unauthorized use of university assets which results or could have resulted in financial loss to the university (for example, theft; embezzlement; fraud; conflict of interest; failing to report known or suspected misappropriations regardless of magnitude; supervisors, managers, department heads or deans failing to report possible misappropriations to Audit Services). See Misappropriation and Conflict of Interest in Professional and Business Practices policies.
Obscene or pornographic material—use of university computers or other resources to access, view, download, store or send obscene, abusive or pornographic documents, messages (including jokes), files, images, emails, videos, music, or links to any website featuring sexual, pornographic or obscene messages or images, absent legitimate business need (academic research or curriculum or as part of a disciplinary investigation). However, such need must be disclosed in advance to supervisor. Employees who receive such material unsolicited or inadvertently must report the receipt to their system administrator or Information Security, and take steps to avoid offending others with the received material (for example, by not forwarding or displaying it).
Patient health or wellbeing—actions or omissions that directly or indirectly cause harm or have the potential to harm (for example, medication errors, gross negligence, improperly performed medical procedures, performance of medical procedures not trained and/or licensed to perform, falsification of medical records, failure to report and/or follow up on abnormal findings, allowing others to harm a patient by failing to properly supervise or failing to report).
Productivity—failure to perform responsibilities or essential functions as per the job description; failure to meet job requirements (for example, maintaining required licenses and certifications); failure to perform work in a productive or cost-effective manner, or with a reasonable error rate; any conduct adversely affecting efficient or orderly workflow.
Reporting wrongdoing—failure to report: suspected or actual wrongdoing, including actions which interfere with or adversely affect work operations; inappropriate behavior; policy violations; and condoning or supporting such actions. Such reports may be made to either the employee’s supervisor or the appropriate university office. See Staff Complaint Procedures; Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault; and Accounting and Auditing Complaint Reporting policies; also see Compliance Help & Hotline.
Safety—failure to follow safe work practices, failure to report unsafe work practices, failure to immediately file accident reports, failure to immediately report safety hazards to a supervisor or Risk Management. See Health and Safety policies under Administrative and Business Practices.
University or departmental policy—failure to comply with any university or departmental policy. All employees are responsible for familiarizing themselves with university policies and adhering to them; employees should contact their supervisor to obtain copies of departmental policies.
University resources—use of the following for any purpose other than university business: university or departmental materials, supplies, equipment, services, vehicles, logos and trademarks, tools, files, telephones, copiers, fax machines, scanners, mailing services, computer software, computer equipment, and human resources (for example, employees conducting personal business while being paid for hours worked, or assigning non-university work to another employee or student worker). Unauthorized removal of university property is prohibited, including removal of items designated as scrap or trash (recyclables) for purposes of personal use or sale.
Violence—acts or threats of violence, intimidation or aggression on university property at any time or while on university business regardless of location, or offsite at university-related events.
Weapons—possession of any firearm (excludes permitted staff in the Department of Public Safety) or other weapon while at work or on university property, including rifles, shotguns, pistols, BB guns, pellet guns, stun guns, ammunition, explosive compounds, bomb-making materials, bows and arrows, martial arts weapons, and knives (except silverware and knives used by food service, facilities, maintenance, etc. personnel as part of their job duties).
Discipline and Corrective Actions
Staff involved in the types of behaviors referenced above are subject to disciplinary or other corrective action that may include, but is not limited to:
- Training or counseling by supervisor or other designated university authority
- Oral warning by supervisor or other designated university authority
- Written warning by supervisor or other designated university authority
- Discontinuation of perquisites or privileges
- Reduction or elimination of merit compensation increases
- Demotion and/or removal from supervisory position
- Suspension without pay
See Appendix A—Staff Disciplinary Procedures for further details regarding warnings, suspensions and terminations. The university may also:
- Ensure that a person against whom a complaint is made is not involved in making decisions that affect the professional career of a complainant or witness in an investigation
- Change lines of supervision
- Reassign or relocate employees
- Offer training or counseling on relevant university policies and practices
- Take action to remedy harm to a complainant or witness
Related Policy and Additional References
- Accounting and Auditing Complaints
- Appropriate Attire and Appearance
- Conflict of Interest in Professional and Business Practices
- Conflict of Interest in Research
- Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault
- Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Non-Discrimination
- Injury and Illness Prevention
- Staff Complaint Procedures
- USC Drug-Free
Appendix A—Staff Disciplinary Procedures
Following are the criteria and guidelines for assessing, evaluating and administering discipline to staff employees. Excluded are faculty and those claiming student status (including teaching and research assistants). Nothing in the following guidelines is intended to create any contractual rights or alter the at-will nature of the employment relationship. In the event of a discrepancy between these procedures and a collective bargaining agreement, the terms of the collective bargaining agreement will govern.
The following should be considered when applying discipline:
- Consistency in the application of discipline is important. Although different situations involving different staff employees and circumstances call for discretion in determining appropriate disciplinary action, similar offenses should be met with approximately similar discipline.
- Discipline should be applied in proportion to the magnitude of the offense.
- In cases where there is some doubt as to whether the employee is fully aware of expectations, discipline may consist of a series of disciplinary actions. These disciplinary actions may include oral warnings, written warnings, and/or disciplinary administrative leave. Immediate termination may be initiated for the most serious offenses or willful violations of policies and procedures.
- All inappropriate behavior, disciplinary actions taken relative to that behavior, and expectations for correction of behavior should be fully documented and communicated to the employee in a disciplinary counseling session. Verbal warnings should be documented with a notation to the department personnel file at the time the warning takes place
The staff employee should have performance/behavior problems addressed as soon as they arise and be given an opportunity to correct the issues. The following types of disciplinary actions are to be used as appropriate. The employee should receive disciplinary action that matches the level of the performance/behavior issue; generally, discipline escalates from a verbal warning through to a final warning if the issue is not corrected.
Oral warning—the employee is advised of performance/behavior that needs correction. The discussion with the employee should explain why the performance/behavior is unacceptable, define the expectations for appropriate behavior, and describe the possible consequences of further or repeated violations. This discussion should be fully documented and placed in employee file.
Written warning—if oral warnings have not corrected the performance/behavior, or if performance/behavior is significant, severe or repeated, a written warning should be issued which specifies the inappropriate performance/behavior using examples where appropriate, refers to any previous warnings, details the required corrections and performance/behavior expectations, and suggests training or other tools that will assist in the success of the employee. Written warnings should explain what will happen if performance/behavior is not corrected, including the possibility of termination. All written warnings should include a place for the staff employee to sign, verifying that the document was discussed and a copy received.
Disciplinary administrative leave—if the employee’s performance/behavior is significant or egregious enough to merit suspension, or if employee fails to correct performance/behavior problems within a reasonable period of time despite prior oral and/or written warnings, the employee may be placed on unpaid or paid disciplinary administrative leave. The department must contact HRA for consultation and authorization prior to putting a staff employee on disciplinary administrative leave.
Termination—if the employee’s performance/behavior is significant or egregious enough to merit termination, or if employee fails to correct performance/behavior problems within a reasonable period of time despite prior oral and/or written warnings and/or suspension, the employee may be terminated. The department must contact HRA prior to initiating any action to terminate a staff employee. No staff employee may be involuntarily terminated without HRA authorization.
Human Resources Administration
Todd R. Dickey, Senior Vice President, Administration
University of Southern California