Progressive Discipline Best Practices
Progressive discipline is a practice in which increasingly stiffer penalties are imposed for repeated policy violations. The purposes behind progressive discipline include:
- providing employees with information about how their current performance, attendance, or behavior differs from what is expected;
- motivating and assisting employees in changing their performance, attendance, or behavior; and
- enhancing employee morale and performance by “showing” that inadequate performance by fellow employees will not be tolerated.
Progressive discipline generally starts with a verbal warning or coaching, then moves to a written warning that may be followed by a suspension and, finally, termination of employment. A good progressive discipline policy will explicitly reserve the employer’s right to skip any steps, to not use any at all, and to terminate employment for a first offense without notice or warning.
When implementing a progressive discipline policy, employers should follow best practices, including:
1. Be accurate
Always review the employer’s policies and procedures to make sure they are being followed.
2. Be informed
The decision makers involved must know all of the relevant facts. If not, conduct an investigation.
3. Be fair
Review the employee’s prior disciplinary record before taking any disciplinary action and make sure the punishment is appropriate for the offense.
4. Be consistent
Ensure that the employee is receiving the same treatment others have received for the same offense.
5. Be complete
Document everything, including any and all meetings and/or conversations regarding disciplinary matters. No exceptions.
6. Be explicit
Identify the problem in detail, using specific examples and avoiding general statements. Explain to the employee why the action is being taken, explain what the expectations are for the future, and be clear about future consequences, if appropriate.
7. Be aware of all potentially relevant information
Before instituting any discipline – including termination – the employer should ask if the employee’s protected status (age, race, gender, disability, etc.) or recent protected activity arguably had anything to do with the decision, or whether the employee could allege that it did. Protected activity would include requesting or taking leave, requesting an accommodation or raising a complaint of discrimination or harassment.
8. Obtain employee input and acknowledgment
Review any written discipline with the employee and have him/her acknowledge receipt. Allow the employee to explain the conduct and/or give his/her version of events. To the extent possible, use the discipline as a positive experience and an opportunity to help the employee.
Employers should consult with experienced human resources professionals and/or labor and employment counsel with any questions regarding these new employment laws and any required changes to employer policies and practices. For MEA members, the Hotline and a Member Legal Services attorney are available to provide this assistance.
About the Author
Amy McAndrew is MEA’s Director of Legal and Compliance Services and has over twenty years of experience as a labor and employment attorney.