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Giving employees a clean slate

I’m the human resource (HR) manager of a medium-sized company. Our employees are clamoring for a policy granting a clean slate on offenses after a certain period. This idea was discussed in our recent town hall meeting with the chief executive officer (CEO), who assigned HR to study its pros and cons. Is such a policy necessary? Why or why not? — Grieving Over.

My brief answer is — not necessarily. Let’s do this in a manner that would convince the CEO and the employees. Think about this. At some point in your management career, you may have issued a policy without too much thought or careful analysis, including an examination of the long-term implications. You’re not alone. I’ve seen many managers who would simply agree to certain propositions in the hope of avoiding conflict until real problems come up.

Take it from Peter Drucker who talked about “doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Now, let’s agree on the prescription period for certain offenses to avoid having a perpetual black mark on the employees’ records. The underlying assumption is that everyone must be given the opportunity to change after being punished.

It is not necessary for the actual record to be literally removed from the employee’s 201 file.

Why would you create a clean-slate policy? I would say giving a new lease on life to violators depends on their actual behavior and work performance. In other words, no amnesty will help any employee if violations of company rules continue, or if they continue exhibiting poor work performance.

ACTION PLANYour action plan depends on the frequency of violations, which should be a critical factor in implementing any clean-slate policy. If you’re in HR and you’re not collecting and monitoring data on discipline, then that’s one issue that you should start addressing without further delay.

Without such records, you can’t take an intelligent position on the issue. Let’s do this step by step.

One, collect, monitor, and analyze all employee violations. To make HR’s job easy, assign all team leaders, supervisors and managers to compile a report covering the past year. All reports must contain the following — names of violators, nature of offense, and the type of sanctions meted against them.

Then, verify all information submitted by the line leaders. After that one-year report is submitted, start requiring them to inform HR about all subsequent violations. I’m assuming the ideal set-up of line managers personally handling employee discipline with active assistance from HR.

Two, benchmark with your industry counterparts. This includes understanding the best practices of your competitors, regardless of any difficulties in obtaining their cooperation. My experience tells me that competitors would be happy to cooperate depending on your trustworthiness and the level of interest that you have exhibited.

If your competitors are uncooperative, you can move forward by benchmarking with other companies of your size, number of employees, revenue and other factors. If you’re located in an export processing zone, it’s advisable to connect with other locators.

Three, rationalize your promotion policies and procedures. This includes a review of your performance standards, succession plan and inter-department transfers. Are there any rules that prevent employees with violations from getting a merit increase or be considered in the succession plan? If there are none, then that’s one point against any amnesty policy.

If there is no bearing on future merit increases and chances for promotion, why are employees pushing for it?

Four, determine the reason why employees are seeking a clean-slate policy. Now that you’re fully armed with all the information, discover why the employees are pushing for the policy. If there are no solid reasons, then your job becomes easy.

Just the same, it’s better to understand their logic. You might discover some arguments that are not aligned with the company’s vision, mission and values. Armed with your baseline data as discussed above, you can make a case for or against the employee request.

Last, compromise if you must by agreeing to write off minor offenses. If your CEO prefers to grant the request to maintain goodwill with the employees, try limiting the amnesty to minor offenses like the non-wearing of company uniform or identification card, or habitual unauthorized absences and tardiness. Aim for a standard based on the penalties involved — for instance, not to exceed one day’s suspension without pay.

In that case, declare a clean slate after one year from date of violation. If you have a union, it’s advisable to defer any decision by making it an issue subject to bargaining.

Join Rey Elbo’s “Kaizen Study Mission Japan” to be held July 23-29, 2023 in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture. For details, chat with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or send e-mail to or via

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