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Workplace Policies and Pitfalls

For new graduates and emerging professionals the workplace can be a major challenge.  Our workplace glossary covers the basics of workplace policies and pitfalls to avoid.


Frequent or habitual absence from work.

Affirmative Action

This is an ongoing effort to improve employment and educational opportunities for members of minority groups including women.

Company Policies and Procedures

These are guidelines for expected workplace behavior. Some companies may itemize policies in a physical document such as an Employee Handbook, Standard Operating Procedure Manual etc. Company policies could also be online in a secure area of the company intranet or in some type of online registry. As a new employee you should know where to find written company policies and not rely on colleagues to explain them to you.

As an example there may be a policy about personal use of an assigned company vehicle, mobile telephone or even your desktop computer. The language in some policies is directed by state or federal guidelines. You will often hear the term “policies and procedures.” This doesn’t just address the policy, but also addresses the step-by-step procedures involved in maintaining the policy.

Condition of Continued Employment (COCE)

An employer may establish criteria with which employees have to conform in order to remain employed. For example, an employer may issue an appointment letter to an employee in an emergency situation before the background investigation is completed. In this case the employer would add a contingency clause that states that the employee must have a clear background check as a condition of continued employment. Another example could be a nurse who is required to get a flu shot as a condition of continued employment.

Employee Handbook

This is a printed or electronic document which contains the employer’s policies. The goal is that this handbook is a repository of general information put together by the employer to inform employees about expected workplace behaviors and practices. The handbook is routinely updated and may refer to written policies that change all the time. Usually the employee handbook is given to the employee at the time of hire. If you don’t get one, please ask for it.

EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

A federal government agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. Employees or applicants can find information on how to file a complaint, follow up on a complaint, learn about employee rights and/or learn about employer rights at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


A complaint from an employee about a violation of their rights by management staff in an environment where employees work under a collective bargaining agreement. There is a written process to resolve these issues in the collective bargaining agreement.

HR Investigation

Investigations into alleged wrong doing happen all the time in the workplace. Human resources take all investigations seriously, but some incidents and accusations might require attention. For example, any accusations of alleged discrimination would demand prompt attention. First, the HR office wants to protect any employee who is subject to discrimination and second, HR wants to limit the potential liability to the company.

Investigations might involve speaking to witnesses or co-workers. If you are contacted by the HR office to be questioned as part of an investigation, my best advice is to remain truthful. In a unionized environment, you would have the right to have a union representative with you, if you feel that you could be disciplined as an outcome of the conversation. You might even be required to write a witness statement. You also, depending on your company policy, might be allowed to have a trusted colleague with you during an investigative session.

Progressive Discipline

A disciplinary process where the severity of the penalties for violating company policies or poor performance gradually increase with repeat occurrences.

Pre-disciplinary Hearing

In most workplace disciplinary cases, unless it is something egregious, the HR office will conduct an investigation to find out the facts, before deciding on discipline. As part of the investigation process, the employee will be given an opportunity to respond to any accusations in a meeting called a pre-disciplinary hearing.

Probationary Period

This is a specified period of time which could be up to 365 days where a newly hired, promoted or transferred employee’s job performance is evaluated. The typical length of a probationary period is 3-6 months. During this period, the work of a new hire can expect to be monitored closely by supervisors who will help the employee transition into the position.

Probationary Separation

A new employee may be terminated during or at the end of the probationary period for failing to meet the performance standards established by the employers. Keep in mind that some employers can also choose to extend a probationary period for additional time if they feel the employee is close to meeting the standards.

Positive Discipline

This approach to discipline is favored by employers who want to reinforce positive behaviors among employees.


Used as a form of discipline, it is a specified period of time during which an individual’s performance or conduct is closely monitored. See “Probationary Period”.


Employment and workplace retaliation is restricted by employment and labor laws. Retaliation is a type of discrimination against an employee because the employee was exercising his/her rights, or because the employee participated as a witness or a plaintiff against the employer. Retaliation could also happen if an employee made a report or allegation against the employer about improper behavior.

Suspension With or Without Pay

The employer may suspend an employee with or without pay while an investigation is being conducted on a disciplinary matter or as a result of an investigation. Suspension can be given instead of termination after the facts of the situation are considered. Employees are typically given an opportunity to defend themselves in any disciplinary matter that could result in suspension.

Workplace Bullying

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

Verbal abuse – Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.

Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done

Zero Tolerance

Companies often establish what they call bottom line behavior and will immediately dismiss anyone who violates company policies. For example there could be immediate dismissal of someone who is caught stealing, has assaulted someone or is impaired by the use of drug or alcohol at work.

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