Progressive Discipline Procedures
Progressive discipline procedures are put into place for two primary reasons:
- To give the employee an opportunity to correct behaviors that require discipline
- To protect the employer if termination becomes necessary by having a documented trail of the procedures followed before termination
Most progressive discipline procedures follow these five steps:
- Oral reprimand
- Written warning
- Final written warning
- Termination review
Here are steps that should be followed throughout each phase of this process:
- Before issuing an oral reprimand, ask the employee whether there are any extenuating circumstances that have contributed to the unsatisfactory behavior
- If not, ask the employee if there are any deficiencies in training or communicating company policies that have contributed to the unsatisfactory behavior
If either of these are true, determine whether those circumstances should be considered before issuing the formal oral reprimand or if perhaps some other option such as counseling should be recommended first.
If an oral reprimand is warranted:
- Do it in private.
- Stick to the facts.
- Do not be judgmental.
- Have the employee repeat to you his or her understanding of the issue after you explain it as well as his or her understanding of what must be done to correct it.
- If there is a written version of the policy or procedure the employee is violating, make sure to show it to the employee and make sure that he or she understands it by repeating it back to you in his or her words.
- Explain how the expected improvements will be measured and monitored.
- Make sure that a written summary of the meeting with the employee is created either through detailed notes of the meeting or a memorandum created after the meeting. This is to ensure that progressing to the next step is done according to policy if additional discipline is necessary.
- If the problems addressed in the oral reprimand are not resolved, a written warning should be given to the employee with as much detail as possible about the objectionable behavior that has led to the warning, along with an explanation of any consequences if the behavior isn’t corrected.
- Among the specifics to be included:
- What standards will be used to judge the employee’s future behavior?
- What are the time frames for expected improvement? Are there benchmarks or just a single deadline?
- State explicitly that the failure to correct the behavior will result in termination.
- Have the employee sign the written warning.
- Place a copy of the warning in the employee’s personal file.
Final written warning
If the behavior continues or doesn’t improve, the employee should be given another written warning which explicitly states that this is the final warning the employee will receive before a review for termination.
This warning should be accompanied by the following:
- Copies of the previous written warnings
- Specific areas which should be targeted for improvement by the employee
- State specifically that the failure to change the objectionable behavior(s) will result in termination
- Specify the time period within which the changes are expected to occur.
After the specified time period, if the behaviors have continued:
- The supervisor must notify human resources to move forward with the next stages of the procedures.
- Someone other than the supervisor should make the final decision about termination to ensure that all requirements are met before the employee is discharged
- Ensure the process and decisions are neutral and unbiased to avoid potential legal action.
These questions should be considered as part of the termination review:
- Is there an employee manual or handbook? If so, has the progressive process met the requirements set out in those procedures?
If the answer to either or both of the following questions is yes, the termination process may proceed, but there must be heightened proof of the circumstances at each stage of the process.
- Is there a contractual relationship between the employer and employee and does the process being used for termination meet the requirements of that contract?
- Has the employee filed any claims against the employer such as workers’ compensation, EEOC, whistleblower-type reports, etc., that could result in the termination being interpreted as retaliation?
This is the last resort. See the termination checklist for those steps.