In a progressive discipline system, the severity of the penalty increases with each
infringement of the rules. Among the advantages of a progressive discipline system is the
fact that you can work with the employee to try to retain him or her as a productive
worker without having to resort to termination immediately. Typically, the progression is:
A progressive discipline system contains the following elements:
Both you and the employee know in advance, to the extent possible, the appropriate
discipline for the violation of a specific work rule.
The degree of discipline is greater for repeated offenses in a given time frame.
All violations are treated the same unless there are unusual mitigating or aggravating
Usually, after a specified time period (like six months or a year) passes without another
infraction, the worker gets a "clean slate." Any later infractions will start the process
again with an oral warning.
Some cases of misconduct are so severe that you may skip the first one, two, or even
three steps. For example, assaults or fighting, stealing, intoxication on the job, gross
insubordination, destruction of company property, etc., may all justify immediate action.
But don't fire the worker on the spot! Firing someone is a serious action, not to be done
off the cuff. Sometimes situations are not as they appear. Give yourself some time to
investigate, and, at a minimum, to be sure of what really happened and who was
The existence of a progressive step-by-step discipline system conveys to employees that
you're not out to nail them to the wall at the first sign of trouble.
The existence of an adequately communicated progressive disciplinary system keeps
employees informed of where they stand.
Having a definite and consistently applied disciplinary system shows employees who
have never been disciplined that those who do need to be disciplined will be.
A progressive discipline policy provides the business with a system that is fair and easily
defensible against a challenge.
These advantages are compelling ones, especially for businesses trying to build and
sustain high employee morale.
Progressive discipline can be an involved process. For very small businesses, it may be too involved to invest time in, especially if there are few discipline problems. Here are some of the other downsides of progressive discipline:
A progressive discipline system requires that everyone with disciplinary authority be
trained, fully knowledgeable of the policy, and willing to assume responsibility for
administering the discipline steps.
There may be a lot of documentation and follow-up work necessary to administer the
You need to have a formal, written policy. This policy need not be distributed to the
employees, but you'll have to have it so that you can be sure it's followed consistently.
Specify which behaviors or infringements of work rules are not subject to progressive discipline (usually these will be serious behaviors that warrant immediate termination).
Decide whether to advise all employees of the policy, what your progressive
discipline steps are, how the policy is to be applied, and what the policy does not
explain what steps have been taken already and what the next step is.
Give the employee a chance to respond, explain and defend his or her actions.
Acknowledge the employee\u2019s story and be sure to include it in your notes of the
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?