Is there a “Cleansing Period” for offenses?

Is there a “Cleansing Period” for offenses?

If an employee commits a violation, how long should that infraction be considered in terms of the employee’s overall performance? Would it be fair to keep bringing up past violations or does it make sense to wipe the slate clean and start over? You’ve probably heard about cleansing periods, but are unsure of how they work and how they can fit into your systems.

Let’s explore different ways of dealing with this.


There are 2 schools of thought

The first school of thought says that once it’s done, it’s done. If the erring employee is given the penalty and they serve it out (ex. suspension or they take note of a warning), then that should be considered done and dealt with. It’s a clean slate right after that.

The second school of thought says that the employee does not live in a vacuum. This train of thought state that the entire history should provide the context when looking at an employee for purposes of promotion and subsequent offenses… regardless of how long ago it was.

Both positions seem pretty extreme with their own pro’s and con’s. The first one immediately cleanses or wipes the slate clean, while the second position never forgets. Is there a middle ground between the two?

You may need a cleansing period

Well, the middle ground seems to be the implementation of a “cleansing period” for violations.

A cleansing period is a policy saying that after a certain period of time, your record is purged or cleansed. It’s basically the management saying, “You committed this offense? Don’t worry, after 1 year, it won’t be considered anymore. It will be as if it didn’t happen for purposes of promotions, bonuses, or the escalation of offenses.”

It straddles the middle ground between totally forgetting about an offense, and not letting go. Therefore, you can say that from now on, past offenses will be considered only up to a certain point. Your record will be “cleansed” after that.

What does the law say about cleansing periods?

You may find this surprising, but cleansing periods aren’t in the law in the first place.

Under the doctrine of Managment Prerogative, the law left it to your discretion how long the influence of previous offenses would have an effect on future ones. For reference, please read the article titled Managers are more powerful than they realize for a full discussion on your rights as a manager or a business owner.

In short, the law says you have a wide discretion on how you discipline your employees. This includes the treatment for past violations. Therefore, can treat past offenses as relevant or irrelevant as you see fit. And you’re also entitled to set your own rules on how to interpret them, subject to general limitations on policy making.

Also note that you don’t have to call it cleansing period. You can call it whatever works for you. Try “Wiping the slate clean”, or “Reset”. Have fun with it.

Cleansing Period version 2.0

Now that you know you can install Cleansing Periods, I’d like to propose a modification for you. Ever consider that you can install cleansing periods for specific categories of offenses only?

For light offenses, I usually see managers impose a “cleansing period” of 1 year. But the offenses for heavier offenses (such as misrepresentation, theft, etc.) stays. That way, the gravity of the offense is accorded the proper attention and request. This article on making penalties commensurate to the offense might help.

Let’s see how this plays out in real life

Meet Jake. He was suspended a year and 1 month ago for failure to file his leave application before going on vacation. Now, he’s up for consideration as one of the employees for promotion. If you have this selective cleansing period active, that suspension should no longer count when you’re considering his record after a year.

And not just for promotion. In case Jake screws up again and he AGAIN failed to file the proper application for leave, that previous suspension has already cleansed his records and he is squeaky clean. For purposes of implementing penalties, he is back to the first offense.

However, if he did something heavy in the past, such as falsifying some records and you just gave him a break, if he does this heavy violation again even if it was 5 years into the future, then it would be considered for purposes of increasing his penalty.

See how that works? It seeks to treat light offenses and heavy offenses commensurately.  Therefore, you retain the benefit of being a forgiving system, while keeping your employees accountable for heavy offenses.

Hope this article gave you great ideas on how to fine-tune your penalty policies.

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