Employee Relations Practice Guidelines

Discipline / Corrective Measures


These guidelines apply to all staff employees covered by collective bargaining agreements and to employees in designated confidential positions. These guidelines do not apply to faculty, employees in the Management Personnel Plan (MPP) or employees in excluded classifications, e.g., student assistants, work-study, special consultants, etc. Additionally, for sworn Police Officers the Public Safety Officers’ Procedural Bill of Rights provides additional procedures.

The guidelines and processes are in conformance with the California Education Code, Title 5, and CSU Executive Orders. Where these guidelines and procedures are in conflict with the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA’s), the Collective Bargaining Agreements take precedence.

San Diego State University is committed to encouraging effective performance. This is accomplished through acknowledging and reinforcing effective job performance and providing a process for improving and correcting less than effective performance. This process includes employing progressive discipline as a tool to correct serious performance problems. Progressive discipline establishes a process of clear, timely, and documented communications with an employee designed to ensure an understanding of job expectations, provide an opportunity to correct behavior, improve performance, and assure “due process.” The process begins with a job description, appropriate training, and communication of performance expectations followed by regular performance evaluations by the supervisor/appropriate administrator.

Effective performance is acknowledged through verbal reinforcement, written performance evaluations outlining specific examples of accomplishments and contributions, and merit awards when funded.

Poor performance is normally addressed through a progressive pattern of prediscipline and formal discipline. Pr-discipline includes special performance evaluations, counseling, verbal and written warnings, and letters of reprimand. Formal discipline includes suspensions without pay, demotion, or dismissal. This progressive pattern of discipline is designed to ensure proper communication between a supervisor / administrator and an employee, provide an opportunity to reinforce appropriate behavior and to facilitate correcting unsatisfactory employee performance.

These discipline / corrective measure guidelines are provided to assist supervisors and managers in addressing employee performance.

Delegation of Authority

The President has delegated authority to impose formal disciplinary action in the form of suspensions, demotions and dismissal to the Provost and appropriate vice presidents (Cabinet level officers) and the Associate Vice President for Administration. The Cabinet Officers have further delegated the initiation of formal discipline to their appropriate administrators. Initiation of formal disciplinary action (suspension, demotion, or dismissal) requires consultation with the Associate Vice President for Administration or designee and concurrence of the cabinet level officer.

Predisciplinary action is delegated to the appropriate administrator. Predisciplinary actions include counseling, oral and written warnings, and letters of reprimand, may be taken with or without consulting the Associate Vice President for Administration or designee.

Corrective Action

Typically, progressive discipline is implemented for failure or refusal to perform the normal and reasonable duties of the position, which includes, but is not limited to unsatisfactory performance, excessive absenteeism, tardiness, work rule violations, or insubordination, and unprofessional conduct including verbal abuse toward another employee.

When serious misconduct is suspected, an employee may be temporarily suspended with pay for reasons related to a) the safety of persons or property; or b) the prevention of the disruption of programs and/or operations; or c) investigation for formal disciplinary action. Such misconduct may include, but not be limited to, dishonesty, including fraud in securing employment, theft, misappropriation of university property or funds, acts endangering the health and safety of others, immoral conduct, and conviction of a felony or conviction of any misdemeanor involving moral turpitude.

The appropriate administrator must immediately contact the Associate Vice President for Administration who will initiate in writing a suspension with pay under the above circumstances.

Rejection During Probation and Early End of Temporary Appointment

The appropriate administrator must submit a memorandum to the Associate Vice President for Administration requesting the early termination of a temporary appointment or rejection during probation. The memorandum should describe the basis for the request, as well as the steps that have been taken to communicate with the employee regarding the improvements needed. This should be documented in performance evaluations consistent with the applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Center for Human Resources will prepare a written notice to the employee either ending the temporary appointment or rejecting the employee during probation and attaching a copy of the request from the appropriate administrator. The Associate Vice President for Administration or designee will advise the appropriate administrator of any contractual review or appeal rights based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Normally, the employee will be provided a two-week notice or pay in lieu of notice if immediate removal is necessary based on operational needs. If the employee has permanent status in another classification, the employee has the right to return to the classification in which he/she has permanent status. The employee will normally be reassigned to a position within the same college or division where they previously held a permanent position. Should the reason for dismissal or rejection during probation of an employee with prior permanent status be for reason of theft, fraud, or moral turpitude, removal from all employment will be initiated in accordance with Education Code provisions.


Verbal and written warnings are intended to be an informal notice to the employee of a specific behavior that needs to be corrected. A warning should describe the problem, indicate expected behavior and outline the future consequence of failure to correct the behavior. The administrator should maintain a record of the date and content of all conversations with an employee where a verbal warning has been given and should retain copies of any written warnings. Administrators should prepare a “memo to file” documenting verbal warnings and conversations when improvements to performance have been addressed.

Reprimands are written and shall be given by the appropriate administrator to the employee and shall be forwarded to the Center for Human Resources Department for inclusion in the employee’s official personnel file. Since all personnel decisions regarding formal disciplinary action must be based on material contained in the employee’s official personnel file, all deficient behavior should be carefully documented and all written reprimands must be clearly articulated. The written reprimand must be clearly identified as a written reprimand (e.g., “Letter of Reprimand — Performance” or “Letter of Reprimand — Attendance) and must state that a copy of the reprimand is to be placed in the employee’s personnel file (e.g., “cc: Official Personnel File”). The written reprimand should contain, but is not limited to, the following:

  • What the employee did
  • How the behavior violated a performance expectation, work rule, policy or procedure
  • What the impact of the employee’s behavior was on the university
  • What the employee needs to do to improve performance; what will happen if there is no improvement
  • What the employee’s rights are concerning the Letter (i.e., applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement provisions)

Formal Discipline

Consultation with the Associate Vice President for Administration or designee is required prior to the submission of a request for formal disciplinary action (demotion, suspension and dismissal). After consultation, a request to initiate formal discipline must be in writing and addressed to the Associate Vice President for Administration. All supporting documentation, e.g., attendance records, copies of written reprimands are to be attached to the request. The written request must describe the deficient behavior, identify the impact to the department, outline what actions have been taken to communicate with the employee about the deficient behavior, the result of the action, and include the names of witnesses, if appropriate.

Where the behavior is believed to be illegal or constitute serious misconduct, the appropriate administrator must immediately notify the Associate Vice President for Administration who will advise the Chief of Police and/or university auditor as appropriate.

The Associate Vice President for Administration or designee will prepare the written notice of intent to impose discipline in consultation with the university counsel and forward the notice with all supporting documentation to the appropriate Cabinet Level Officer for signature.

Upon signature, the Associate Vice President for Administration or designee will arrange for personal service of the notice or delivery by certified mail to the employee’s last known address.

The written notice of intent to impose discipline advises the employee of their rights before the discipline becomes effective. Within five (5) days of receiving this notice, the employee may provide a written statement and/or, by appointment, an oral statement, to the designated campus Reviewing Officer appointed by the Associate Vice President for Administration or designee. The Reviewing Officer determines, if based on the employees verbal/written response, the facts warrant discipline. The Reviewing Officer prepares a brief memorandum stating his/her conclusion to the Cabinet Officer. The Cabinet Officer makes a final decision on the discipline, notifies the Associate Vice President for Administration who writes the final decision letter for the Cabinet Officer’s signature.

The employee’s final written notice of discipline will contain the effective date of the discipline and advise the employee of their appeal rights to the State Personnel Board. Within thirty days of receiving the final notice of formal disciplinary action, the employee may file an appeal to the State Personnel Board.

If an employee appeals to the State Personnel Board, the Associate Vice President for Administration will notify the Cabinet Officer and appropriate administrator of the hearing date, time, and place, and will assist the university counsel with necessary case preparation and presentation.

Rights of Employee in Formal Discipline

Employees have the 1) right to representation; 2) right to be given the facts, i.e., to know the facts giving rise to the disciplinary action; 3) right to a hearing on the matter; 4) right to receive copies of all materials upon which the action is based; 5) right to have a campus administrative review; and 6) right to file an appeal with the State Personnel Board.

Rights of the Employee in Prediscipline Actions

The employee has a right to receive a copy of any document(s) including a letter of reprimand that could lead to an adverse personnel action prior to their placement in the employee’s official personnel file. The employee may in turn submit a response to these documents that must be included in the employee’s official personnel file. The employee also has the right to review their personnel file and obtain copies of all materials contained within it. When preparing a letter of reprimand, state at the bottom of the letter that a copy will be placed in the official personnel file and that the employee may submit a response. The employee may request a conference with the appropriate administrator to discuss the reprimand, may be represented at the conference by a Union representative or a person of their choice, and may request a review of the reprimand at the next level of supervision. The appropriate Collective Bargaining Agreement should be consulted as well as the Associate Vice President for Administration or designee.

Where not provided specifically by collective bargaining provisions, letters of reprimand may be removed from the official personnel file upon the employee’s request after three years from its effective date. If formal disciplinary action has been initiated and the reprimand is related to the action, the letter will not be removed. Nothing in this provision prohibits earlier removal of the reprimand upon mutual agreement by the administrator, the employee and the Associate Vice President for Administration.

What to Consider before Initiating Discipline

  1. Has an accurate, comprehensive position description; clearly written performance expectations; and adequate training been provided to the employee?
  2. Are the standards of employee performance and rules of employee conduct being applied fairly and equitably? Have all employees demonstrating similar unacceptable behavior or violating policies, procedures, or work rules been treated alike?
  3. Does the university have a written guideline or policy concerning the behavior and was the employee given a copy of the guideline?
  4. Has information regarding performance expectations and acceptable behavior been communicated regularly? Have written records been maintained of the counseling and warnings? Has the employee been able to tell their story? Has the progressive disciplinary action been initiated in a timely, consistent and confidential manner?


The following are questions to address when preparing verbal/written counseling, warnings, and reprimands.

  1. What did the employee do? Clearly pinpoint the specific conduct deemed deficient and describe the conduct in complete and explicit terms using plain language. Include dates, names, places, events, witnesses, etc. Supplement general statements with specific examples to provide a proper factual foundation. The document should be a self-contained record; it should be fully understood by a third person unfamiliar with the employee’s unsatisfactory conduct. A third person should be able to understand what the employee did that created the problem based on reading the document, without having to refer to any other information source.
  2. How did the behavior violate a performance expectation/rule? Include the rule, authority or expectation relating to the unacceptable behavior, such as CSU policy or Campus policies and procedures, collective bargaining provisions, job descriptions, written work rules or written administrative memos / instructions / directives. Often, it will be necessary to translate the problem into a “recognized performance expectation”, especially when the unsatisfactory behavior is not directly tied to a clearly defined written standard or expectation. This type of behavior may involve attitude and cooperation, job efficiency and accuracy and adequate job skill levels. Examples include discourteous conduct, poor professional judgment, job carelessness and disruptive behavior. Where the inappropriate behavior has previously occurred, a notation should be made of the prior incident and resulting action, if any.
  3. What is the impact of the employee’s conduct? Cite the adverse effect of the employee’s conduct on university operations and other persons. Examples include: lack of dependability, unnecessary shift of duties to other employees, lack of continuity and consistency, unnecessary expenditure of supervisory time, interference in normal procedures causing delay in the completion of work, exposure to personal injury and university liability, destruction or damage to property and repair costs, and lack of compliance with required timelines.
  4. What does the employee need to do to improve? Provide specific suggestions and / or directives for the employee to meet job expectations. Outline directions on the proper behavior or level of performance expected to be followed in the future. It is important to be clear and unequivocal and include effective timelines and the consequence if the employee fails to comply (further disciplinary action will occur which may result in dismissal, etc.). In other words, the employee must know what must be done to correct deficient performance or behavior, and when and what will happen if the performance is not corrected. The description of the behavior must be unambiguous, easy to understand, and complete. Identify any assistance that the employee may require to meet performance expectations such as additional training, equipment, etc.