Progressive Discipline

Because employee discipline is a difficult experience that managers and supervisors inevitably have to face, having effective guidelines handy can be invaluable.

Behavioral issues generally result in disruption to the work environment, for example, workplace misconduct and/or rules violations; performance issues result in a failure to meet goals and/or properly perform tasks, such as when an individual lacks the knowledge, skills or ability to perform the job, or where the work is consistently unacceptable in terms of quality or productivity.
When it becomes necessary to discipline an employee, two principles apply:

  • First, the employee must be clearly informed by the supervisor as to the source of dissatisfaction;
  • Second, except in limited circumstances, the employee should be given the opportunity to correct the problem using “Progressive Discipline” or being putting on a “Performance Improvement Plan”

In most cases, the purpose of discipline is to instruct and correct rather than to punish. It is your responsibility as a manager to explain to the employee those areas in which he or she is expected to improve, to make suggestions about how to improve, and to allow time for the employee to make improvements.

It is usually only in instances such as theft, physical violence or other serious misconduct that immediate termination may be the proper action. By having a list of immediate terminable offences written in your handbook that the employee receives at the start of their employment, will protect you from “unlawful termination” lawsuits. (see the Policy and Procedure section of this website for examples)

Progressive Discipline

progressive-discipline-tipIn most instances of behavioral or performance problems the following steps can be taken:

  1. Verbal Warning, then progress to
  2. Written Warning, which may be accompanied by a written “Performance Improvement Plan”
  3. Suspension (this can be used only if you wish to rehabilitate an employee, but may be skipped)
  4. Termination as a last step

When it is apparent that a progressive disciplinary approach has failed and that the necessary change in behavior has not been achieved, you may decide to terminate the employee. Before terminating, it is a good idea to have a “Termination Justification Form” on hand. This ensures that all the steps and every attempt has been made to work with the employee to correct their issues.

It can be very difficult to advise an employee that you have concerns with his/her behavior or performance, but honesty, frankness, and precision about the sources of your dissatisfaction and about your future expectations for the employee are very important to the employee’s understanding of the problem and his/her ability to improve.

Vagueness and generalities or glossing over the situation are likely to leave the employee uneasy and feeling that something is wrong; however, without information and direction, the employee is unlikely to be able to improve.

The above tips are just a few guidelines that should be followed to protect your company against termination lawsuits. You should ask yourself, does your companies’ managers and supervisor have access to:

  • Appropriate forms for documentation?
  • Guidelines on how to speak to employees in case of conducting disciplinary actions?
  • Do they know what to say and what not to say?

If the answer is no, then educating your managers and supervisors is a must to have the optimal protection.