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Progressive Discipline, the Misunderstood Frontier – Part 3

Part One

Part Two

Given this is our third article in this series the reader is reminded in our previous article we examined the overreaction on the manager’s part to disciplining employees. The focus of this article is to examine some of the challenges associated with training the management staff and agents.


Larger companies in the industry have access to formalize systems including human resources (HR). Many of them may operate on rotational or shift programs in which they have sufficient employees that if the needs for training exist they are able to temporally remove  the employee and send them to acquire the knowledge they need by enrolling them in appropriate training courses they need. During their absence depending on how large their staff is they may be able to easily substitute another manager therefore not affecting the flow of work and business in their operation. In other industries there are specified protocols and codes of conduct including complaint procedures that are administered by the Human Resources Department, therefore, whenever a problem occurs an incident report  is written and the offending part is sent immediately to human resources who deals with the appropriate disciplinary measures.

Clearly the challenges faced by larger companies can be offset by their resources. This however is not the case for smaller employers. In Ontario small employers are the driving engines for the economy. They constitute 98 percent of all businesses and 30 percent of the provincial Gross Domestic Product.

Many of these companies are still family owned business that have grown beyond the immediate family members. Despite this growth they still run on the mom and pop model that they started with. During their initial set up of the business the division of labor was not as formalize as it would have become now that the business has expanded. In the old days if something needed doing one of the family members just did it with the expansion of the work force however there have become more specialization and specification in terms of who is responsible for what function.

In itself this may pose problems on two levels, firstly the new employees don does not have the same level of commitment as the owners and they only execute their task as part of their job function. Therefore, when a task not in their job description arises it may not be attended to or they may refuse to perform the function required citing their terms and conditions of employment.  Needless to say, this is one of the challenges that many small businesses have to deal with and overcome. The second consideration is that even though the business may have expanded from its original state the employers have never obtained any formalize management training. The problems arise from this are two fold, firstly there is a lack of knowledge-training that needs to applied whenever situations occur and given that there has not been a formal process and procedure developed the manner of dealing with the challenge will be at best haphazard as oppose to formalized. The second part of this challenge is the expectation from the owners of unwavering commitment and loyalty from their employees who they feel should be grateful given that they have been kind enough to provide them with work. Even if  the employee feel gratitude and loyalty given that he or she was not part of initial foundational experience they cannot fully and accurately appreciate the feeling of the employer and thus this on its own may heighten the level of unappreciation with respect to the owners position.

From a structural perspective assuming that the previously listed challenges can be overcome the company is then faced with the challenge of how they would deal with the loss off and employee who is in management during the time they are being trained or re-trained. On a practical level it must be determined who will undertake the management function of the individual being trained while they are away. Further consideration must be focused on how the absence of the manager affect production. Even if they are able to find a suitable replacement how will the other staff relate to the substituted person especially in light of the fact that they may not have an ongoing relationship and or an establish rapport with the person filling in.

In light of the fact that the initial founders of the business may not have formalized business training such as MBA’s, law degrees or degree in commerce the challenge become how do they decided which course their employee should be undertaking  given the myriad of areas that needs to be covered by any work place there is further confusion as to which area should be focused on first and which course should be actually undertaken. For instance, if the business had just grown to the size they needed someone to attend to aspects of bookkeeping the question could be should their employee just be enrolled in a bookkeeping program which would be shorter than a certified general accountant program or a chartered accountant degree. Will the person’s function only be related to adding numbers and balancing the book or is there a value in them having the opportunity to create formal budgets that will allow predictability for the company? Given that the company is expanding would it make sense to increase their function to include payroll or should the company consider using an external payroll source like electronic (EDP)

Assumptively having made this decision they are then faced with the choice of which program to enroll the employee in. And this is only in respect to the issue of bookkeeping, as companies grow, they are faced with the challenge of considering the needs that  arise in terms of legal issues that apply and thus consideration needs to be given to someone trained inhuman resources. In addition, to this there is a need for knowledge with respect to managing staff, developing and scheduling work rotations, sick policies, and numerous other faucets that make businesses functional. Not only do they have to choose the type of training they also need to be able to decide which area of training will be most beneficial to the company first. Having achieved this the next challenge become picking the courses. In Ontario there are programs offered through colleges, through universities, basic programs run by the Toronto Board of Education, private business enterprises like the learning annex and on-line programs offered throughout the world. Needless to say, making a decision that is seemingly simple as this can clearly as we have demonstrated can be quite time consuming, involve research  and be quite complex.

Having circumnavigated all the challenges in picking an appropriate course, deciding on the format and fully understanding the skill set and competency the candidate will achieve on completion and ensuring that these said qualifications align maximally with the need of the growing company the owners. The owners of the upwardly mobile company are then faced with two more final challenges, firstly consideration needs to be given to the cost of the course, the salary for the employee enrolled in the course this need to be viewed in light of the fact that while that person is away someone else will be filling their role thus increasing their cost. On its own this challenge may prove insurmountable to many smaller companies. Assuming however they can be overcome consideration needs to be given to the fact that the employee trained now has a new skill set and possibly a certificate which may make them more marketable on the open make and eligible for a higher level of renumeration. Should they decide to jump ship employers need to consider how they would manage and deal with the loss of both knowledge and human potential. The second consideration in its foundational years as companies grow often close family friends are brought into the fold as employees. Thus, what is  maintained is a relationship that straddles both the employer employee relationship as well as the friendship boundary. The choice of who is chosen to pursue this new role  can then often split loyalties and polarize smaller employers into camps in which one or more of the employees might feel I should have been the one chosen for that training or that job, or alternatively the person chosen was wrong. It goes with out saying that this dynamic can significantly impact the established working relationships in a fledgling company and has the potential to threaten or mar its upward mobility curve.


As indicated above for small companies to continue to grow and develop they often require making significant changes such as acquiring expertise in specific areas as deemed necessary based on the companies needs. Training of current staff or the hiring of new staff will pose new challenges for such companies and particularly for their managers who will need training in how to manage and discipline staff according to human resources policies and procedures in order to circumvent wrongful dismissal suite by disgruntled employees.

It must be remembered that the authors clearly are cautioning the reader that this article will not replace the need for a lawyer and further we are not providing legal advice. Our knowledge in this subject area comes from the fact we have been mediating employment matters for more than a quarter of a century. It is our hope that by discussing these workplace occurrences and concepts we have in this article inspired employers to ensure that they are taking the necessary steps to avoid a claim if and when a workplace issue arises as it is inevitable


Deutsch, M., & Coleman, P. T. (2000). The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice.   San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Employment Standards Act 2000.

Gjema v. Mercury Specialty Products Inc., 2012 MBQB 83 (Manitoba 2012). Retrieved from

Ontario Economic Report 2020-Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Economic Report.pdf#:

Ontario Ministry of Labour- 2018

Shah v. Xerox Canada Ltd., CanLII 2317 (Ontario 2000).

Shakur v. Mitchell Plastics, 1008 (Ontario Supreme Court 2012). Retrieved May 05, 2015, from


Bruce Ally

Bruce Ally is the founder of A Place for Mediation. As a mediator in private practice he has conducted in excess of 4000 matters. He is an instructor in the Lawyer in Negotiation course at Osgood Hall Law School, and a facilitator in the Advanced Mediator Program and the Workplace… MORE >


Maurice Ford

Maurice Ford is a former educator who worked as a mediator and investigator for the Ontario Human Rights Commission. After retiring, he has taken on the role of a senior mediator and associate at A Place for Mediation. He is also on the Attorney General Roster and is certified by… MORE >

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