Employee Reprimanded in Front of Other Employee?


Quite Involved in Discussions
Hello All -

I would like your opinion on how a certain situation was handled.

An employee was caught using a cell phone during work hours. There were several life-changing issues happening at home, where the person needed to stay in contact.

But of course, work is work, and home is home. Always to be separate.

The employee was brought into the Head Boss's office. The HR Representative had left for the day at this point. So he asked another employee, not from HR, to stay and listen as he laid into the employee about cell phone usage. He brought up previous issues the employee was written up for that happened 8 years ago. And then finally stated the employee would be fired if the cell phone was used again.

Do you think it is right that all of this information was brought up in front of another employee and not an employee from HR? The boss's reasoning for keeping the employee in the room was to be a "witness" to the conversation.


Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Super Moderator
I've been in similar meetings (maybe not quite as negative in scope) where "witnesses" were brought in. I don't think that is too egregious. If the manager is serious about this, he should put something in writing with HR's concurrence. Perhaps HR would then calm him down. The "employee would be fired if" statement should be put in writing for the company's protection.

A lot depends upon the employee in question past on-the-job interruptions. And how that compares to other employees and stated policies. If there is a long history / problem, then it may be justified.

But I am neither a lawyer nor a HR rep.


The employee should not have been disciplined in front of another employee unless the other employee was part of the employees management chain or as you say from HR. If a witness was deemed essential then it should be one of those two.
On the other hand it seems that if the offense has not occurred in 8 years and is only happening now because of extenuating circumstances that a more reasonable approach from management could be more beneficial to the situation. A little trust going both directions can go a long way to building an effective team. Just my approach to management.


Trusted Information Resource
I have been the witness as an employee. The supervisor (prior to the meeting) called me in and told me what was expected of me:

Sit down, shut up, listen, and report to his superior if asked. I was not to talk about anything heard, expressed, or inferred to ANYONE but my supervisors superior (which also included HR I would assume) IF asked. This included my supervisor, the employee, and anyone who asked 'what was that about?'.

I was a witness only there to protect both the employee and the employer. I was called in because there was no one else who could do it in a reasonable time frame (it was an on-going safety issue).

I had/have a reputation for not spreading rumors, I assume that is the reason I was chosen.


Quite Involved in Discussions
The employee had only been written up once in the last 8 years.

The witness was not an employee from management, and also had no clue what was coming. The conversation started off as a talk about a project, and then suddenly as it came to a close and the "witness" got up to leave, they were asked to sit back down.

That is when the conversation turned to reprimanding the other employee. Only after it was over did the boss explain to the other employee why they asked them to stay. But not a huge explination was given - just "I needed a witness here".

If it was done the way Michael explained - I would not see a problem. But the approach was not discussed and in my eyes not conducted appropriately.

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
I can see scenarios where cell phone use on the job could
  1. create a danger to employee or others because of distraction
  2. cause a slowdown in production which could affect an entire process line
  3. be a sign of illegal activity (gambling, narcotics dealing, espionage)
  4. be just "goldbricking"
  5. other, less nefarious scenarios

Employee erred in not making a previous accommodation with the employer during his personal "crisis" - probably understandable that he not want to involve others in his personal affairs.

Boss "may" have erred in ranting and bringing up old offenses. 8 years is a long term for most employees today. Something else is going on that there should be this level of rancor against a long-time employee. We need more facts.
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Well, as inappropriate as we may find this incident, I'll try to pull it into the context of this forum. Were any company policies or procedures violated or ignored by this incident? You may not like this manager's brusque approach, but if he did nothing technically wrong, there's really not much you can do about it ... short of pulling him aside and voicing your opinion on the matter.

And, if he truly did nothing that violates a policy or procedure, this might provide a nice springboard opportunity to improve that by updating your company's procedures on dealing with employee discipline issues.
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Nothing wrong with calling a witness in, it's advisable. And that's where my understanding of the bosses actions end.

The witness wasn't a member of management? If you need a witness you don't call in a peer of the person being reprimanded. At least I wouldn't.

Yes, some things can't wait until HR is back in the office but unless this was a safety issue I'd have told the employee to put the phone away and we'd discuss it with HR tomorrow. If it was an emergency (safety/quality being compromised and likelihood of it causing an accident/issue) I'd get another member of management for sure. Preferably in their chain of command, but that's not always possible so any member of management in a storm in that case.

However, once it rises to the level of one more time and they lose their job that shouldn't be said without documenting it for the company's protection. Any member of management should have access to write up forms so they can get it in writing even if it waits until morning to be processed by HR.

When it comes to the work is work thing - they aren't always separate. If you have a critically/terminally ill relative, a wife/gf due to go into labor any day, death of a loved one... a boss who offers as much flexibility as possible is not only a decent human being, but acknowledging that employees are people goes a long way toward creating a work environment which will encourage top performers to stay. Life happens from time to time.

That said, there are a lot of life changing issues which aren't easily solved by some flexibility. Some people always have something major going on in their lives. Someone they love always going in or getting out of jail, or a kid in serious trouble a lot, heck even a divorce will knock you off your feet for quite a while - so I think the best we can expect from our employer for the longer term issues is to be as flexible as possible for a short while so you can make arrangements to take care of things without it interfering with work. But there is a finite amount of patience one can expect.

Back to the OP - was this employee a manager? If not I wonder why upper management didn't point the problem out to the person's manager and let them handle it?


I'm with Wes, in that I think there's probably something more underlying this than just an employee using their phone.
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