Shirt Tales: Progressive counseling

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Michael Moore
  • 92nd Communications Squadron first sergeant
Sergeant Hammer walks up to Airman Rock and says, "Rocky, thanks for staying late last night and making sure the computer system worked for the Video Telephone Conference. It went off without a hitch and the commander was very impressed." Would you say this is a form of counseling? If your answer is "yes", then you would be correct. 

Sure we have many other names for this, such as kudos, pats on the back or positive reinforcement, but it is all still counseling, albeit positive. However, counseling is usually the pivotal point where documentation of misconduct takes place. It is the first step in formal documentation. We should keep in mind not all counseling deals with misconduct. Counseling can be used to motivate and praise. When substandard behavior is evident, counseling should be initiated for shortcomings and as a corrective tool. 

Counseling can be done at any level and is the least severe form of administrative discipline. This should be done as soon as possible following the deficiency of behavior. Documentation of counseling can serve as evidence of an individual's misconduct if the member continues to exhibit substandard behavior. What I find in most instances is supervisors wait until the last minute to document counseling and then go with the most severe form. That is, they will give two to three verbal sessions and then jump straight to a Letter of Reprimand. Keep in mind that the reason for counseling is to correct the behavior or misconduct. If we don't do this in progression, then we are failing to give the individual an opportunity to improve. There are two forms of counseling; verbal and written. Examples and the order in which they should normally be given follow below. 

Verbal Counseling: This type of counseling is appropriate when the misconduct is minor and there is no history or pattern of misconduct. This type is also used to positively motivate. You can document it on AF Form 174, Record of Individual Counseling or in a memo for record. This type of counseling can also be used for good performance. The majority of verbal counseling is for good deeds, as in the example of Sergeant Hammer and Airman Rock. Remember to document these counseling sessions just as you would for misconduct. It doesn't always have to be in the form of an award or certificate.
Written Counseling (LOC): This type of counseling is more assertive than oral counseling. Putting the substandard behavior in writing adds more impact. Also, it is the start of a paper trail for documentation. When the individual has displayed a more serious form of misconduct, written counseling is advised. This form of counseling takes on the same format as a LOR. A Privacy Act Statement is required. Always ensure the member has acknowledged the LOC. LOC can be administered at any supervisory level. You can advise a commander to file this type of action in the member's UIF. For officer personnel, if the LOC is not filed in the UIF, it must be filed in the individual's PIF.

Letter of Admonishment (LOA): is more severe than a LOC, and it carries a stronger degree of censure. This type of administrative tool is used if the infraction is more serious in nature. However, do not use a LOA when an LOR is more appropriate. A LOA serves as a "warning" to the member for the substandard behavior and informs the member further repetition of the behavior will be corrected with a more severe form of discipline. For officer personnel, if the LOA is not filed in the UIF, it must be filed in the individual's PIF. A memo for record should document oral Admonishments. 

A Letter of Reprimand (LOR): is more severe than a LOC and LOA and is a stronger degree of official censure. A LOR can be either oral or written. A written LOR is advised because it serves as a record of the misconduct while suggesting improvement. Letters of Reprimand are also management tools that commanders and supervisors use to document deficiencies and take corrective action. Do not use a LOR when non-judicial punishment is more appropriate. The LOR can be filed in UIF. For officer personnel an LOR is mandatory for filing in the UIF. LORs may be filed in Officer Selection Record and a determination whether to file in the OSR will be made by the Senior Rater.

Drafting and administering RICs/LOCs/LOAs/LORs:
AFI 36-2907, Chapter 3, para 3.5) - The following information must be stated in any written LOC, LOA, or LOR: 

1. What the member did or failed to do, citing specific incidents and their dates.
2. What improvement is expected?
3. That further deviation may result in more severe action.
4. The individual has 3 duty days to submit rebuttal documents for consideration by the initiator.
5. That all supporting documentation received from the member will become part of the record.
6. The person who initiates the counseling has three duty days to advise the member of their final decision regarding any comments submitted by the individual.
7. A privacy act statement

When you write a RIC, LOC, LOA, and LOR, be objective. Put your emotions or personal feelings to the side and keep it professional. You may advise the member of his or her rights under Article 31 prior to questioning the member if the counselor suspects the member of a violation under UCMJ. If in doubt about whether rights should be read or not, contact the legal office for clarification or direction. The most important thing to remember is that these are corrective tools. You are trying to give the individual a chance to change the behavior. Allow them to do this by being as fair and equitable as possible. They will appreciate it, the work center will be more productive, and you will be more effective.