Progressive Discipline

Progressive discipline helps employees understand and correct violations they have made. It also allows employers to take serious action when warranted. Following these steps also helps ensure that a discharge is fair and will stand up to legal scrutiny.

Progressive discipline is mutually beneficial.

  • A structured system can take some of the guesswork out of supervisor/employee relationships.
    • Employees know what penalties could come next.
    • Supervisors can be confident in disciplinary decisions.
  • There must be communication and collaboration, particularly in the early steps of the process.
    • Communication and collaboration allow focus on what will work best for the employee to improve.
    • Employees can participate in the problem-solving process, which increases engagement and likelihood of success.
  • All steps should be documented in writing.
  • Never promise that correcting a problem will save an employee’s job.

The first progressive discipline step is usually a verbal warning.

  • Talk privately with the employee right after the act that calls for a warning.
  • Calmly explain the rule, the violation, and the possible results if the problem is repeated or isn’t corrected.
  • Listen with an open mind to the employee’s side.
  • Give the verbal warning.
  • Develop a plan for correction with the employee.
  • Write dated notes about the discussion.

The second progressive discipline step is usually a written warning.

  • Give written warnings only for the most serious and/or repeat violations.
  • Use the appropriate form or format for the written violation.
    • Consult with HR before issuing a written warning.
    • State what rule was violated when and where, as well as other facts.
  • Review the warning and its background privately with the employee.
    • Emphasize the seriousness of the situation.
  • Develop a correction plan with the employee and attach it to the warning.
  • Sign the form and have the employee do so; note if the employee refuses.
  • Place the form in the employee’s file.
  • Monitor and document how the employee complies with the corrective action plan.

The third progressive discipline step is usually suspension without pay.

  • Take this step only as a last resort before discharge.
    • It gives you and the employee time to consider the next steps.
  • Confer with HR on the type and length of the suspension.
    • Three days is a typical time frame.
    • This may not be an appropriate step for salaried employees.
  • Meet with the employee, plus another supervisor or the HR representative.
  • Explain the problem, its seriousness, the suspension, and the next steps.
  • Sign, and have the employee sign, the necessary forms.
  • Meet with the employee after the suspension to plan corrective action.
  • Monitor and document how the employee follows the plan.

The final progressive discipline step is usually employee discharge.

  • Take this step in consultation with HR for the most serious and/or repeated violations. Investigate charges carefully, even for the worst offenses.
    • Document the investigation and all prior related actions in writing.
  • Discharge the employee in a private meeting.
    • Detail the reasons for the discharge.
    • Have another supervisor or HR representative present.
    • Explain the proper procedures for ending employment.
    • Have all present sign a document on what took place in the meeting.