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Manager’s guide to progressive discipline

by on
in HR Management,Human Resources

No state or federal law requires an employer to establish a progressive discipline policy. But if your organization has one, make sure you follow it.

Most discipline cases lost in court or arbitration are the direct result of a manager’s failure to give adequate warning, document properly or enforce rules consistently and fairly.

Here are the steps to keep in mind when doling out discipline under a progressive discipline system:

  • Document verbal warnings and counseling. Then place these notes in employee personnel files. Avoid the practice of removing disciplinary actions from employee files after a year; without these records, you may get stuck at step one of the progressive discipline process even if an employee commits multiple infractions.
  • Remember that discipline cannot be carried out in a vacuum. It must be tied to employees’ prior warnings and performance reviews. Document your efforts by using a Discipline Documentation Notice.
  • Allow employees to tell their sides of the story. Be sure to document what they say.
  • Let employees know what is ex­­pected of them. Explicitly state: “I expect that you will ...” Then provide the em­ployees with the tools necessary to reach the goal. The responsibility of shaping up then lies in the hands of the employees.
  • Set deadlines. Employees must be provided a reasonable time period within which to correct the problem. Generally, you want to steer clear of issuing a warning at 9 a.m. and terminating the employee at 3 p.m.
  • Spell out the consequences of in­­action. Employees need to know that they will be subject to a specific adverse action if the problem addressed is not remedied.
  • Skip steps only when warranted. It’s not illegal to terminate an employee without running through your gamut of progressive discipline steps. But be sure that such extreme action is clearly deserved.

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