There comes a time in the life-cycle of every company when an employer needs to enact disciplinary action. Progressive discipline can be a helpful tool to ensure that you treat employees fairly and consistently, and also provides an opportunity for you as the employer/manager/supervisor/jack-of-all-trades to communicate what needs to change going forward. If you do not tell your employees what they are doing wrong, how will they know that something needs to change?
While there is a progression in the steps involved in progressive discipline (hence the name), there will be times when steps should be skipped. The 4 steps involved in progressive discipline are:
Coaching - is on-the-spot training and performance/behavior discussions. It is typically instant feedback to employees regarding their performance and/or behavior. Coaching can also occur in other forms, such as structured performance check-ins.
Verbal Warning - after coaching an employee (this can be once or multiple times, depending on your practices) the next step in progressive discipline is to issue a verbal warning. Verbal warnings are more structured than coaching discussions. The conversation with the employee should take place in a private location, free from distractions and other coworkers. There are some key areas of focus for verbal warnings which include discussing the following; the behavior or performance issue, how it affects the workplace/company, how the employee can improve this going forward and setting a time frame as to when the behavior or performance should change. Verbal warnings should be documented and retained in the employee's personnel file.
Written Warning - very similar to the verbal warning, written warnings discuss various aspects of the employee's behavior/performance. Written warning conversations can be tough, just remember to keep the discussion factual and most importantly stay calm. If you have a manager or supervisor or other trusted employee, it is a best practice to have a witness present for the discussion. The witness should sign the warning notice; this is particularly important if an employee refuses to sign the written warning. At the end of the discussion, provide the employee with a copy of the written warning and retain the original for your records. The document should discuss in detail the following:
The behavior or performance issue - Keep this factual and include as much detail as possible to ensure the employee understands the exact behavior or performance issue.
How it affects the workplace/company - If you have a policy specific to the behavior/performance issue make sure to include this in your discussion.
How the employee can improve this going forward - Provide specific examples as needed to ensure that the employee understands how they should change their performance/behavior in the future.
Set a time frame as to when the behavior or performance should change - this can vary depending on the specifics involved in your discussion. Make sure that you give the employee ample time to change their behavior/performance. And if necessary set up a time to review their performance/behavior in advance.
Allow the employee to provide comments - if the employee has any comments related to your discussion, make sure to record these in this section.
Termination of Employment - The last step of progressive discipline is termination of employment. At this point, you as the employer, are deciding to end the employment relationship. Check your state legislation for any requirements for when final wages are due and any notices/documents that are required upon termination.
Determining what steps to take and where to start in the process of progressive discipline can be tricky. Just remember that the punishment should fit the crime. Be fair and consistent with your practices and document all of your discussions.
As always, if you have questions/comments/concerns, simplyHR would love to hear from you!
simplyHR is an HR consulting firm located in Fort Collins, CO. Servicing companies in all 50 states. Our goal at simplyHR, is to provide training, education, partnership, and resources to make Human Resources simple for small businesses.
The content of this website provides practical and HR best practice information and is not legal advice. simplyHR LLC does not provide legal advice or other professional services. While every effort is made to provide accurate and current information, laws change regularly and may vary depending on the state and/or the municipality your business operates in. The information provided from simplyHR is provided for informational purposes and is not a substitute for legal advice or your professional judgement. You should review applicable federal, state and municipality laws in your jurisdiction and consult with legal counsel as you deem necessary.