Progressive Discipline

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

The most reliable way to protect your organization from charges of wrongful discharge is to establish and enforce a system of progressive discipline.

Make it clear to all supervisors that they're expected to abide by your progressive discipline policy. That way, you can ensure that any employee fired because of inferior performance was treated fairly and in accordance with your policy. (See box for a “Model for Progressive Discipline.”)

If you do use progressive discipline, leave yourself an out in case you need to dismiss an employee immediately. Retain the right to dismiss an employee for serious offenses without going through progressive discipline. In addition, make sure your handbook doesn’t give any guarantees that employees will have an opportunity to improve their performance.

Case in point: An employee handbook contained language that a court interpreted to mean entitled employees to progressive discipline. The handbook stated the company’s progressive discipline counseling “will provide [the employee] with a reasonable opportunity to make the necessary improvements in order to succeed.” A federal appeals court read that to mean the employee must always have an opportunity to improve. Messinger v. U.S. Bancorp, No. 04-35548 (9th Cir. 2006)

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