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How Progressive Discipline Works

How Progressive Discipline Works

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Published by: api-3822959 on Oct 18, 2008
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How Progressive Discipline Works

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:

Oral warnings
Written warnings
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

Progressive Discipline Advantages
While a progressive discipline system may seem like a high-maintenance way to control
employee behavior, it does have advantages. For instance:

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 Disadvantages

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.

In creating your progressive discipline policy, follow these guidelines:

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

Decide how you will maintain documentation (i.e., memos about oral warnings,
written warnings, etc.).
Decide if documentation will remain in a file forever and, if not, under what
circumstances and timing the documentation can be removed and destroyed.
Establish a procedure for maintaining the documentation and protecting the
confidentiality of the information
Exclusions from progressive discipline. Behaviors that are commonly excluded from a
progressive discipline approach and that subject the employee to immediate discharge
might include the following:
possessing or consuming non-prescribed narcotics on company property
reporting to work intoxicated/impaired
instigating a fight on company property
carrying a weapon without a business purpose on company property
destruction of property
gross insubordination
misrepresentation of important facts in seeking employment
violation of confidentiality or sharing of trade secrets outside the business
If you exempt these behaviors from your progressive discipline policy, be sure that you
act on each occurrence of the behavior consistently
. Progressive Discipline Checklist
Follow these steps in exercising progressive discipline with an employee:
Before the Meeting
Arrange to meet with the employee privately. Do not discipline an employee in
public or in front of other workers.
Prepare for the meeting by reviewing your notes and files about both the specific
incident or problem in question and any past discipline taken, either verbal or written.
During the Meeting
Explain to the employee why you\u2019ve called the meeting if the employee doesn\u2019t
know already.
State the specific problem in terms of actual performance and desired
Review your progressive discipline policy/program with the employee, and

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

discipline session.
Tell the employee that you expect his or her behavior to change. Give specific
examples and suggestions.
Indicate your confidence in the employee\u2019s ability and willingness to change the
Have the employee repeat back to you or otherwise confirm that he or she
understands the problem and is clear on what changes are expected.
Explain to the employee that you will write a memo summarizing the session as
Reassure the employee that you value his or her work and that you want to work
with the employee to make sure that he or she can continue to work at your business.
After the Meeting
Using your notes from the session, write a memo or other documentation that
summarizes the conversation.
If a written warning has been issued, be sure to give the employee the opportunity
to sign any documentation for the file.
Give the employee a copy of the document no later than the end of the day
following the conversation.
If the employee has other supervisors, distribute copies to them, but emphasize
that the information is confidential and not to be shared with anyone else.
Monitor the employee\u2019s behavior and performance to make sure that the problem
has been corrected.

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