No federal or state law requires you to create and follow apolicy. However, courts often come down hard on employers that promise progressive discipline but fail to deliver it.
In fact, many employee lawsuits stem from the employee’s perception that he or she didn’t receive a fair deal. That’s why a progressive discipline system is the most reliable way to protect your organization fromcharges.
Progressive discipline has five standard parts:
1. Oral warning/reprimand. As soon as supervisors perceive performance or behavior problems, they should issue oral reprimands. Ask the worker if any long-term problems or skill deficiencies need correcting.
Make sure the supervisor keeps detailed, dated notes on the reason for the warning and the response. Don’t assume that managers will remember specifics about disciplinary actions—or even remain employed by your organization—when a complaint makes its way to court.
2. Written warning/reprimand. If the problem persists (or more problems emerge), a supervisor should meet with the employee and provide a written warning that details the problem and the steps needed to improve. If possible, ask another person—a-level employee or HR rep—to sit in on the meeting.
The written warning should summarize the issues discussed, set a timeline for action and describe corrective steps. Explain the standards that will be used to judge progress.
Also explain the consequences of continued, including termination. Require employees to sign this form, acknowledging that they’ve received it. Place the document in the employee’s personnel file.
3. Final written warning. If performance still doesn’t improve, deliver a final written warning, possibly including a “last chance agreement.” Show the worker copies of previous warnings. Specify the time period and, again, obtain the employee’s signature on the warning.
4. Termination review. If problems continue, supervisors should notify HR. In general, supervisors shouldn’t hold sole firing authority. However, to preserve supervisors’ exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act, they should have significant say in hiring and firing decisions. Some organizations suspend employees while they investigate and decide what to do.
Before acting, make sure your disciplinary measures are consistent with those you’ve taken in similar situations. If you don’t, a court could say age, sex or race discrimination was the true reason for your actions. Document your actions and reasoning.
5. Termination. If you decide to terminate, meet with the employee and deliver a termination letter that states the reasons for dismissal.